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Recent thunderstorms bring little relief to parched state

Merdies Hayes | 8/8/2014, midnight
A series of thunderstorms that hit Southern California last weekend delivered torrents of rain and caused flash floods, but did ...

A series of thunderstorms that hit Southern California last weekend delivered torrents of rain and caused flash floods, but did practically nothing to ease the worsening drought. The soil throughout the state is simply too hard and dry to absorb the rainfall which washed away down gullies and ravines almost as most as fast as it hit the ground.

The U.S. Drought Monitor said this week that the locations of the rain and the rate that it fell only resulted in high runoffs and did not occur in two of the state’s key watersheds--the Colorado River basin and in the critical Sierra Nevada Mountains toward the east. The storms “did not allow for significant percolation into drought-parched soils,” the report said.

Climatologists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena said that last weekend’s storm over Mt. Baldy and in the Forrest Falls community was merely a “stronger version” of typical summer weather patterns over the Southwest, but California did not reap any benefit. Officials at the U.S. Drought Monitor said the storms did have some short-term benefits that included lower temperatures during an already scorching summer and briefly decreased irrigation needs for some farmers.

Since late July, about 58 percent of the state was considered to be experiencing an “exceptional” drought which is the harshest on a five-level scale.

Marijuana growers near Mendocino County are feeling the effects of the water shortage. State officials say that illegal grows in areas like Lake County could be making the drought worse because pot cultivators are tapping more into water sources illegally and are leaving damaging chemicals in the soil.

A new group of researchers at the JPL, called “snow scientists,” in July visited Yosemite National Park and may have come up with a way to better measure the amount of snow that collects there in the winter. Already the new data available have allowed for more accurate and more frequent water predictions, and that has reportedly assisted city officials, farmers, power producers, industry managers and dam operators to make the most of an increasingly limited life resource. The scientists are using GPS equipment along with hand-held spectrometers (an instrument used to measure properties of light) to measure how much radiation is reflected by a surface—in this case a granite outcropping. In terms of snow, the amount of radiation reflected by a sample reading can be a good indicator of how fast the material is going to melt. About 90 to 95 percent of the energy that melts snow comes from radiation.

The Arcadia city council this week voted unanimously to back a mandatory water conservation plan to conserve water. Residents are prohibited from washing any concrete surface, there can be no landscape watering between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily, no leaky faucets/spiggots, and no glass of water waiting on your restaurant table. Persons caught violating these directives may see a fine of $100. As well, Santa Anita Park has not witnessed a “muddy” or “sloppy” track in about four years. The new watering guidelines do not indicate how track operators will keep the turf course green.