Anyone who pays attention to rain, and especially snow in the mountains that make up the Kern River watershed, already knows that this year's snowpack is pretty dismal.
But just how bad is it?
The State Department of Water Resources and the Kern River watermaster are forecasting a spring-summer snowmelt in the Kern River watershed that is going to be water-stingy at best. The April through July inflow of snowmelt into Isabella Lake is expected to be just 26 percent of normal during those critical months, according to Watermaster Dana Munn's Isabella Dam & Reservoir Snowmelt Operations Forecast.
Miguel Chavez, hydrographic supervisor for the city of Bakersfield, said the normal April through July inflow into Isabella is 461,410 acre feet. One acre foot of water is roughly enough to fill a football field one foot deep.
"It fluctuates a lot," Chavez said of the snowmelt inflow.
"It was 43 percent of normal last year," he said
So we're seeing two dry years in a row. But 2019 was a whopping 197 percent, nearly twice the average.
The previous year, 2018, didn't quite reach 50 percent, Chavez said. But 2017 was huge, a water-rich 260 percent of normal.
The rest of the state is suffering, too. The water content of California's Sierra Nevada snowpack was measured at 59 percent of the April 1 average, when it historically is at its peak, the state’s chief of snow surveys and water supply forecasting said Thursday.
According to a story from the Associated Press, the result comes amid indicators that California is entering another drought just a few years after a five-year dry spell.
Overall, the state has received only about 50 percent of average precipitation in the current water year and its major reservoirs are only about half full, said Sean de Guzman of the Department of Water Resources.
"It's currently tied for the third-driest year on record," de Guzman said during a briefing at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada, where manual measurements have been made since 1941. The Sierra-wide measurement is made by sensors at 260 locations.
Thanks to the city of Bakersfield's foresight in years past, the city owns more than one-third of Kern River water rights, which delivers some of the southern valley's most pristine sources of water, Chavez said.
According to estimates, the volume at Isabella is hovering around 94,000 acre feet and is projected to rise approximately to about 110,000 acre feet by late May, then slowly subside. By Sept. 1, Isabella will hold about 74,000 acre feet of water, maybe less.
For comparison, Isabella Lake at its current restricted pool can hold a maximum 360,000 acre feet. Of course, water storage and planning will get easier once the Isabella Dam repair project is complete (possibly by next year), giving Munn and the Army Corps of Engineers much more flexibility to store more water in the lake in big water years.
Storing water underground is one strategy to keep from going dry, and wise water use with little waste is a must in wet and dry years.
"Our goal," Chavez said, "is to maintain a reliable supply of drinking water to the residents of Bakersfield."
Do you want ice with that?