Temporary Relief – Recent Storms Aren’t Panacea for Drought

The quality of the video above isn’t very good…but I was out for a jog and was pleasantly surprised at how well the water was flowing out of Grout Creek (over in Fawnskin) back into Big Bear Lake.  I know some of us are a little jealous at how much snow Mammoth is getting (and Big Bear is not), but the rain is good for our lake and aquifers.  The article below was written by Kathy Portie and Natalie Williams of the Big Bear Grizzly last week.

Temporary Relief

Recent storms during Christmas and New Year’s holidays have added more than 7 inches to the level of Big Bear Lake.  But overall, the lake level remains low as Big Bear Valley enters its sixth year of drought.

Two snow storms at the end of December helped make the holiday successful from a business standpoint, but how did it impact the drought?

Not so much, according to officials from Big Bear Valley’s water districts.

“You could say it gives us a false sense of security,” said Jerry Griffiths, water superintendent for the Big Bear City Community Services District.  “We need a great January and February also, if we’re going to see any impacts at all.”

Big Bear, as with the state of California, has been in the midst of a drought for more than five years.  The last time Big Bear was faced with a drought of this magnitude was 2002-2005, Griffiths said.  He likes to use those numbers when calculating the impacts and needs involving the current drought.

“According to our office measurements, we had almost 4-and-a-half-inches of precipitation this last storm,” Griffiths said.  “That sounds like a lot.  But last year in January, we got 4-and-a-half, and it still didn’t (help). ”

Griffiths said his crew plans to measure well levels this week.  Based on November’s numbers, the CSD wells are 42 feet down. At the lowest point during the last major drought in 2004, that level was about 60 feet down, he said.  “That was pretty severe,” Griffiths.  “We go down about 5 feet a year.  If we don’t continue to get good precipitation, we could see it go down more.”

At the Big Bear Municipal Water District, which manages recreation and safety on Big Bear Lake, general manager Mike Stephenson said the two December storms did give a boost to the lake level.  “It’s come up 7-and-a-half inches this season since after Thanksgiving at the lowest point,” Stevenson said.  “That one rainstorm (before Christmas) brought it up the most.”

Stephenson said the last snow raised the lake about half an inch.  “And it’s going to go down in the ground, up in the air or into the lake,” he said.

The mountain resort sources it’s snowmaking water from the lake.  With the recent storms and overal warm weather, the mountain resorts haven’t pumped as much water from the lake as previous year, Stephenson said.

“In the last two weeks they only pumped like 40 acre feet or something.   It’s super minimal,” Stephenson said.  “Right now, the total is an inch of lake level, maybe.”

Sierra Orr, water conservation and public information specialist for the Big Bear Lake Department of Water, said the DWP has wells in multiple aquifers, so groundwater levels vary.

“While some well levels are in decline, recent calculations show that even with some wells offline and continued drought projections, the water supply is sufficient for more than three years,” Orr said.

It’s difficult to determine how much rain or snow Big Bear needs to offset the drought, Orr said.

“While every inch helps, it’s important for people to keep conserving, otherwise our aquifers won’t get a chance to recharge,” she said.  “Our most recent weather year precipitation total was still 5 inches below average, or 14 percent below average.”

Orr said it’s important that people continue to conserve as California enters into its sixth year of drought.  “Even if we are on the way out of the drought, California will have another one down the road,” Orr said.  “We as a state must adhere to the governor’s orders to make water conservation a California way of life.  We are happy to see the state has adopted many of the policies that Big Bear has had in place for over a decade, including the restrictions on runoff, washing off sidewalks or houses, and requiring property owners to fix leaks.”

In November, Governor Jerry Brown’s office released a public review draft report of an executive order to make conservation the California was of life.  The order contains four interrelated objectives including using water more wisely, eliminating water waste, strengthening local drought resilience, and improving agricultural water use efficiency and drought planning.

In the meantime, Big Bear water agencies keep their eyes to the sky. “We need lots more,” Stephenson said.  “This is just the beginning, this 7.5 inches.  We lost 3-and-a-half feet this summer, and we’re going on five years of that.”

Stephenson said the key to improving the lake level is to follow the snowfall with some rain.  The next few weather systems appear to be on the wetter side, Stephenson said.

“We’re certainly encouraged by the forecast,” Stephenson said.  “The one storm later in the week could be substantial with precipitation from the sky and that could be substantial.  We’re just wet, and we’re happy but there’s certainly a long ways to go.”

Meanwhile the state’s water agencies are anticipating new regulations, Orr said.  “We expect the California Water Commission will likely approve a new slate of policies  and regulations at their meeting Jan. 19,” Orr said.  “If that’s the case, we have a lot of work ahead of us.  The way we use and manage water is becoming top of mind, and we think that’s a good thing.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *