(KTXL) — California received a record amount of snow this past winter, and as the snowpack begins to melt, local and state authorities are warning about the dangers the water flows present to the agriculture industry, cities and communities, and ecosystems along the state’s rivers.
“The Big Melt is now officially arriving…” Climate Scientist Daniel Swain said on Twitter. “Flows on many rivers draining the central/southern Sierra will double or triple (with locally greater increases) as temperatures rise. Some rivers will exceed flood stage, & Tulare Basin will worsen.”
The record snowfall was a welcome sight in the state, which has been in a severe drought for the better part of a decade, but fast-rising temperatures at the end of April could send a lot of cold water for a longer period of time down the state’s waterways.
Local and state agencies have been announcing for weeks that the public should avoid entering the waterways as the cold water makes its way down rivers and streams.
“It is imperative that Californians understand water safety in and around rivers, streams, lakes and Sierra reservoirs,” said Armando Quintero, director of California State Parks, in a news release. “…snowmelt-fed waterways can quickly induce incapacitating cold-water shock to even the strongest swimmers.”
At the same time, the state is dealing with how to move the record amount of water along the natural and manmade systems, neither of which can handle this much water at once.
The lakes and reservoirs along the Sierra Nevada and foothills store water for later in the year, but these are not capable of holding onto all of the water they receive, and they are constantly releasing water in order to accommodate incoming flows.
Tulare Lake reappears in Central California
Perhaps the best example of the trouble facing the state is the re-emergence of Tulare Lake.
This lake used to be several times larger than Lake Tahoe, but as engineers built dams, canals and waterways to manage the water for agriculture and inland communities, it disappeared, only to reappear during periods of heavy rain and snow.
Already there are more than 100 square miles of primarily agricultural land in waist-deep water.
Not only are millions of dollars worth of crops at risk, but the floodwaters could also draw up harmful chemicals and fertilizer from dairy and agriculture operations, as well as oil and gas drilling operations, in the area.
California has long relied on getting the majority of its water from the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which slowly melted during spring and summer and made its way to the reservoirs and waterways in the Central Valley.
This year, a few warm rainstorms or a prolonged heat wave could melt the Sierra snowpack faster than normal, sending it to Central California too fast, too soon.