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How does this year's drought compare to 2015?

"It's likely not going to get better"
Climate New Normals
Posted at 4:47 PM, May 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-04 18:48:28-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — As drought conditions continue to worsen across Kern County, how close are we to seeing any government-implemented restrictions put in place?

Those who lived in California in 2015 will remember when Governor Jerry Brown implemented the first-ever mandatory water restrictions throughout the state asking residents to limit how they water their lawn and wash their car, among other things. 23ABC asked the National Weather Service if this year’s drought is reminiscent of that.

“We’ve seen snowpack amounts similar to what occurred around that time,” said Brian Oaks, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Hanford.

California Water Snow Survey

Covering California

Study: Water content of snowpack is well below normal

Anthony Wright, 23ABC
9:36 AM, Apr 01, 2021

In April, officials calculated this year’s Sierra Nevada snowpack as being only 59 percent of what it normally is which is a strong indicator of a looming dry period. But the National Weather Service office in Hanford says snowpack isn’t the only way that droughts are measured.

“Looking forward, it's likely not going to get better only because we’re heading into the dry season,” said Oaks.

Rainfall away from the Sierras in areas like Bakersfield is also taken into account. Oaks says this year has been drier in that regard too. He says as we move closer to summer, things will likely only get drier.

The Kern Water Bank steps up to help during dry times and this year it’s helping in a big way. The bank says an average family uses about 1-acre-foot of water per year. This year, the bank will need to supply 150,000 acre-feet to farms and urban areas to combat drought conditions. That’s more than 48 billion gallons of water.

“You mention 2015. We provided a critical supply to our participants, and we’re doing that again this year,” said Jonathan Parker, general manager at the Kern Water Bank Authority. “We would much rather be in a situation where we’re recharging water, filling the aquifer back up, than pumping it back out.”

The Water Bank says consecutive dry years can be detrimental to local water supplies. The California Drought Monitor labels Kern County in its D-3 classification of drought right now, meaning “extreme drought.” The Weather Service says we're not far off from being in D-4, “exceptional drought.”

“So you have some indicators of the D-4 classification already,” said Oaks.

That D-4 classification is where Kern County was the last time water restrictions were implemented. Ultimately, the National Weather Service is not the one who makes the call to implement water restrictions. That would be Governor Gavin Newsom. 23ABC reached out to his office but haven’t heard back yet.

Last week we saw a group of elected officials across the Central Valley called for Newsom to declare a regional drought emergency, but it appears he hasn’t yet. He only has in two Northern California counties so far.