A study by the American Geophysical Union has found that despite the strong El Niño winter of 2015-2016 California will most likely not recover from drought conditions until at least 2019. The winter of 2015 capped four consecutive years of drought that resulted in the largest cumulative drought deficit over the 65 years analyzed. In fact, California’s snowpack water content in April 2015 was just 5% of average — the lowest in 500 years.
“With the consecutive years of ongoing drought, the Sierra Nevada snowpack’s total water volume is in deficit and our analysis shows it will take a few years for a complete recovery, even if there are above-average precipitation years,” said Steve Margulis, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and the study’s lead author.
Despite a solid ski season in the Sierra last season, snowfall during the 2015-2016 winter was still below average with surveyors finding the water content held by the state’s snowpack at just 87% of normal – a vast improvement from 5% the year prior, but still below average.
AS SNOW MELTS IN THE MOUNTAIN, IT RUNS OFF INTO THE STATE’S RESERVOIRS, PROVIDING CALIFORNIANS WITH ROUGHLY A THIRD OF THEIR WATER SUPPLY IN A TYPICAL YEAR.
Accounting for the four-year snowpack deficit from the 2012-2015 drought, the researchers say it will likely take until 2019 to get back to pre-drought conditions.