Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Covert makes the connection between the loss of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain of California, California’s growing need for water, and how this great need for water in California affects the surrounding states.

The title of this article is “Snowpack falls to 83 percent of normal, but storms are headed in.” This article was posted to the SF Gate website, the online resource for the San Francisco Chronicle, and it was posted on March 1st, 2016. The specific issue is that with the reduction in snowpack, a major source of water for California. This a consumptive water use problem, as the water retained in snowpack goes to serve municipal water withdraws, (water used for showering of washing of dishes), and agricultural uses. The article talks about the meager snowpack that is currently in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and how the monthly fluctuations from the average have been large this year due to the El Nino event. For example, in January the snowpack was 114% of normal, while in March is was 83% of normal. The article then moves on to talk about how snowpack is monitored. 10 days within the first of every month from January to May, measurements are taken by hollow plastic tubes at 250 locations around the state, and these measurements are augmented with another 130 electronic gauges. Finally, the article said that one site was actually 5% above normal at this time, and that more storms are on the way so the snowpack is likely to be recharged soon. Based on my engineering education, the article seems to be very scientifically valid, as demonstrated through the following lab activities preformed this semester. The content of the article on how the snow measurements are taken, that is, with a hollow tube is consistent with the procedure outline in Lab 1 of this course (ESF Lab 01, 2016). Additionally, augmenting measurements taken on site, with electronic gauges, as it said is done in the article with the 130 other electronic gauges, is common practice in hydrology. This was done in Lab 09 when rain data was downloaded and analyzed. The article is not perfect and in my opinion is missing some critical pieces of information (ESF Lab 09, 2016). Based on critical thinking of this news article, two shortfalls were identified. The first is that the historical snowpack was referenced, but a numerical value was not given. The second was that no actual value for the current snowpack was given, just that it was 83% of the normal. Knowing those two numbers would have been helpful.

This is a societal, economic, and global problem. Societal as when California doesn’t have enough water it is going to have to satisfy that need elsewhere. This will be done through increased withdrawals from the Colorado River, which would hinder surrounding states like Arizona, and New Mexico. Both of these states primarily get their water form the Colorado river, and may not get enough if California is withdrawing a significant amount of water from the same source. It is an economic issue, because this increased stress drives the price of water up,

leading to less people being able to afford such an integral part of life. Finally, it is a global issue because this is not the only place that depends on water in snowpack in the world, and it is not the only place where snowpack is declining. Not much has changed in the relationship as of yet. The engineering and scientific communities are working together to more understand the problem to come up with a solution that benefits everyone involved. I found that Barnette et al. (2005) also talked about how the recent warming trend is likely to severely impact the water availability of populations relying on melting snow and ice for their water supply. Even without a change in precipitation intensity, the rise in temperature means less snow, and earlier warming. This shifts the peak runoff from the spring to the winter, which is farther away from the peak usages in the summer and fall. With limited storage capacities, much of this runoff is lost to the ocean, causing a severe water shortage (Barnette et all., 2005). The cause and effect of this earlier warming is as follows. When less snowpack that accumulates over a winter, and the winter warms earlier than usual, a significant amount of water available for drinking purposes is lost. With less available water for drinking California will have less available drinking water and will be more water stressed than usual.

Figures

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 6.59.12 PMImage 1- Image showing the amount of snow present at the same location on the same date for 4 years. This serves to show how snowpack is declining in California.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 6.59.24 PM

Image 2- Image showing the declining groundwater availability from 2002-2008. Further highlights how the loss of snowpack is a major problem. Not only is California losing its snow water, its also losing its ground water.

 

References

Barnett, T. P., Adam, J. C., & Lettenmaier, D. P. (2005). Potential impacts of a warming climate on water availability in snow-dominated regions. Nature, 438(7066), 303-309.

Image 1. [Image showing the amount of snow present at the same location on the same date for 4 years. This serves to show how snowpack is declining in California.]. (2015, April 1). Retrieved May 2, 2015, from http://www.climatecentral.org/news/california-snowpack-obliterates- record-low-18847

Image 2. [Image showing the declining groundwater availability from 2002-2008. Further highlights how the loss of snowpack is a major problem. Not only is California losing its snow water, its also losing its ground water.]. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://greenbirdingmendo.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/care-to-join-the- debate-is-california-doomed/

Lab Manual 01 “Lab 01: Hydrologic Measurements- Snow Depth, and Snow Water Equivalent”, SUNY-ESF 2016.

Lab Manual 09 “Lab 09: Downloading and Analyzing Rainfall Datasets” SUNY-ESF 2016.

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