Below average conditions for Kings River watershed, but 2018-19 carry-over can provide buffer

Photo: Kings River watershed, February 2019

February 28, 2020

In recent days, February’s dry weather conditions in California have prompted news headlines. The statewide below average Sierra Nevada snowpack has water users hoping for a “March miracle”.

In the Kings River watershed, snow surveys show snowpack at 48% of the historic average for today, and 41% of the average snow accumulation for a total season. We are more than halfway through the snow accumulation season, which generally begins December and ends April 1.

Snowpack provides the runoff that feeds the Kings River and meets the needs of cities, farms, and communities within the service area. If “miracle March” means reaching the historic average snowpack before the snow melts and turns to runoff, another generous 12 inches of precipitation would need to fall as snow in the Kings River watershed.

Despite below average snowpack conditions Pine Flat Reservoir storage lies at about the historic average thanks to a strong water year in 2018-19, one of the top 20 water years on record. Many Kings River water rights holders have 2018-19 carry-over storage that can help supplement this year’s likely below average runoff. As a locally managed system that relies on a consistent and predetermined delivery schedule based on water conditions, the Kings River is efficiently and reliably managed for optimal surface water use.

But until March conditions allow more accurate runoff forecasting, a conservative approach to water management is likely. Fresno Irrigation District, a Kings River water rights holder, announced on February 21st postponement of its March water deliveries to agricultural users.

Agricultural users are encouraged to practice strategic and informed irrigation practices. To assist growers, Kings River Conservation District’s AgLine information system provides crop water use information for the Kings River service area. Updated weekly, information provided for each crop includes crop water use for the past 7 days, predicted water use for the next 7 days, and total crop water use season to date.

Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) managers tasked with implementing SGMA, the State groundwater law, are hoping to take advantage of flood flows for recharge opportunities. Current conditions instead provide the opportunity to develop strategies for the years when extra water becomes available.