Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Wet or dry this winter? So far, there’s no clue in the ocean

Making a bet about a wet or dry winter this year? Don’t look for El Nino or La Nina to give you an edge. It’s looking like La Nada so far.

San Luis Reservoir has been low this year due to drought and pumping restrictions in the delta;

If you don’t know, El Nino and La Nina are all about the shallow water temperature in the Pacific Ocean around the equator. Nino means warmer than usual — an indication California might have a wet winter. Nina means cooler — a hint that it might be dry.

After two arid winters years and the long, dry summer of 2013, I hear from a lot farmers, city leaders and business folk who want some idea about the winter to come.

But the Pacific isn’t giving anyone a clue this year. Scientists say it is neither warm nor cool. Which means it’s just a coin flip so far, unless things change soon.

I like to follow Jan Null’s web site about the phenomenon.  Null is a private meteorologist in the Bay Area, and you can learn a lot from his page.

Meanwhile, all bets are off when the ocean is in neutral. Will it stay in neutral? NOAA says it looks like neutral conditions will remain for the 2013-2014 winter.

Why study expansion of a nearly empty reservoir?

A federal leader last week mentioned a study to raise San Luis Dam and expand the nearly empty San Luis Reservoir in western Merced County, raising eyebrows all around. Why study expansion of a reservoir holding 16% of its capacity? And why now?

First, a little context. San Luis Reservoir is an important hub in California’s waterworks — supplying both west San Joaquin Valley farmers and Southern California cities. The reservoir has no natural stream to fill it, so water is pumped there from the sensitive Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

San Luis Reservoir at 16% this month.

When pumping was restricted this year to protect dying fish species and water quality, California lost the opportunity to send a lot of water into the reservoir. The lost pumping and the drought have turned the reservoir into an August mud puddle.

So why look at expanding San Luis Reservoir now?

Half of the answer: It’s part of the ongoing efforts under the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, a 1992 environmental reform law that includes a section to improve water supply.

The other half: The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is going through a dam safety study. The planning division is appraising a project to both reduce earthquake risks and improve deliveries to the federal Central Valley Project.

At the same time apparently, water customers began asking about expanding the capacity of the reservoir.

By sometime next year, the appraisal study will let federal leaders know if they should do a full-blown feasibility study.

This is all part of a bigger fight, pitting Northern California against Southern California over water. It’s a story that has played out over decades. Another chapter is about to be finished as the state prepares the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, touted as a way to fix this marathon problem. It’s a nerve-racking process.

The short-term solution makes everyone even more nervous: Hoping for a wet winter. This problem could get much worse if California gets a third year of drought.

Delta Water Summit scheduled Aug. 3 at Fresno State

Water experts, lawmakers and government officials will field questions from the public in a Delta Water Summit, scheduled 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Aug. 3 at Fresno State’s Satellite Student Union.

I will write a story about it in the next week or so, but it’s time to get the word out about the summit on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Public leaders, scientists, biologists and engineers have been working years on a plan to revive the declining delta ecosystem while providing a more certain water supply. The plan is slowly reaching critical mass, with state leaders focused on two large water supply tunnels.

Though the process has been contentious, the public has not followed it closely. This is an attempt to explain the issues and answer questions, according to the Latino Water Coalition, a Valley group that organized the summit.

Gov. Jerry Brown has been invited to make an appearance and speak at the beginning of the summit. No word yet on whether he will be there.

Panel at Fresno State will discuss preparing for climate change

A forum called “Climate preparedness in the Valley” is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. April 15 at Fresno State to discuss how water availability will change in the future and affect farms as well as cities.

The forum will be in the Alice Peters Auditorium of the University Business Center, 5245 N. Backer Ave. on the Fresno State campus. To register for the forum, go to: www.ucsusa.org/fresno

The forum panel will feature local academics, such as UC Merced Professor Roger Bales, director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute. Adrienne Alvord, California and Western States director for Union of Concerned Scientists, will moderate.

Others on the panel include  Dan Keppen, executive director of Family Farm Alliance;  Joseph W. Oldham, sustainability manager for the city of Fresno, and Fresno State Assistant Professor Peter Van de Water of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

The forum is presented by the Union of Concerned Scientists in partnership with Fresno State’s College of Science and Mathematics and the League of Women Voters of Fresno.