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State Officials Cautious but Not Alarmed About Water Outlook

February 11, 1988|CARL INGRAM | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — State water officials, who last month optimistically predicted that California would avoid a second consecutive dry year, Wednesday tempered their forecasts and cautiously warned that 1988 could be dry after all.

It will not be as dry as drought-plagued 1977, but potentially could be as dry as last year, said Maurice D. Roos, chief of the Water Resources Department's flood hydrology and water supply branch.

"It is not an alarming situation where we have to worry about a real drought this year because we are not in the 1977-type situation at all," he said. "But it still could turn out to be rather tight."

For the past three weeks Northern California has not received a substantial precipitation-producing storm, Roos said, "and it doesn't look like there is anything significant in sight for another week."

Traditionally, February is a big month for precipitation, and unless significant storms occur soon, Roos said, "we would be hurting somewhat." On top of that, he said, 60% of the winter precipitation season has passed and the remaining 40% usually does not produce rain and snow in as heavy amounts.

In mid-January, shortly after water officials issued what Roos called a "pretty optimistic" outlook that there would be sufficient water to meet the demands of California for the rest of the year, the Northern California skies went virtually dry.

It is from the northern mountains that rain and snow runoff travels into the plumbing of the sprawling California Water Project and eventually into the water taps of the lower San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

In 1986, the north state was awash in flood waters. By contrast, 1987 was a dry year and storage reservoirs were drawn down heavily and water officials voiced concern over two dry years back to back.

But the storms in December and through the middle of January contributed significantly to an optimistic water supply forecast.

Even so, Roos said the snow pack is "below normal" in many of the northern mountain watersheds. He added that there are indications that without a major increase in precipitation, California would experience a water year about 80% of the average.

"That by itself is adequate," he said. "Our forecast assumes normal weather as of February, but the continuing dryness of this month does give some cause for concern."

"If that continues, then we would be looking at a much lower runoff," Roos said. "It is still possible to have a runoff that is not much better than last year. It is not likely but possible, if it stays dry."

Statewide, the precipitation picture appears normal, Roos said. But this is distorted because the average is increased by above normal precipitation in desert and low land areas that "don't contribute much to the water supply to begin with."

On the brighter side, Roos said that reservoirs statewide are at 96% of average.

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