This winter’s major storm events  have created a snowpack at high Sierra Nevada elevations that is already far above what is considered normal water content on April 1 when the winter’s snow conditions are typically considered to have reached their maximum.

“This year’s first snow surveys show the measured snowpack water content at the 10 high country Kings watershed locations KRWA measured is 148% of the April 1 average,” Kings River Water Association Watermaster Steve Haugen said today. “That is a water supply that will not run off until the snow starts melting with warmer weather.”

Preliminary numbers — including snow depth, snow water equivalent and other factors — indicate the present Kings basin snowpack could generate 130%-140% of spring runoff.

Last year’s winter snowpack accumulation and water content got off to what on February 1, 2022, was just above average for end-of-January conditions. Runoff prospects in the late winter and spring of 2023 fell steadily after virtually no precipitation fell over Central California after New Year’s, resulting in a third consecutive drought year.

“This year’s water supply is already on the ground,” said Haugen. “Any more snow will just add to it.”

Haugen reported the Kings Basin’s average snow water equivalent found in KRWA’s survey and those taken by Pacific Gas and Electric Company was 42 inches with an average snow depth of 117 inches. The data collection is made for the California Cooperative Snow Survey.

The greatest water content found in the snowpack was 56 inches at Rattlesnake Creek, located at an elevation of 9,900 feet and tributary to the Kings River’s North Fork. That snow course also had the biggest snow depth, 158 inches.

The season’s first runoff forecasts for the Kings and other Sierra Nevada rivers should be available February 9. They will be updated regularly following snow surveys around the first of the month in March, April and May. That information is of great benefit to water managers for planning spring and summer water supplies and operations.

The recent massive storm events, which were spawned by nine atmospheric rivers funneling heavy amounts of moisture into California, also brought well above average amounts of rain to the valley floor, the Sierra foothills and mountains below the 6,500-foot level. Although much of that rainfall soaked into drought-parched soils, significant amounts of rain-generated runoff into the Kings River’s Pine Flat Reservoir.

Pine Flat’s storage is now just over 524,000 acre-feet, meaning the reservoir is now more than half full. That storage total is more than double what was being held behind Pine Flat Dam before the recent soggy series of storms began in December.

Pine Flat’s flood management operations by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prevented any flooding problems along the Kings River during the recent storms. Any issues that may have occurred were the result of localized, uncontrolled runoff downstream from Pine Flat.

 

The groundwater extraction permit bill AB 2201, introduced by Assembly Member Bennett from the Santa Barbara area, will have a damaging impact on growers and communities in the Central Valley and is redundant to the Executive Order issued by the Governor in response to the drought.

Assembly Bill 2201 will have a damaging impact on growers of all sizes and the small communities in the Central Valley which they support. This bill proposes constraints to well permitting that are simply unrealistic. For example, if a farmer’s well fell into disrepair and it needed to be replaced, the farmer would have to (1) hire an engineer; (2) have that engineer perform an analysis and prepare a report; (3) submit that report to the county; (4) obtain a verification from the GSA; (5) submit that verification to the county; (6) wait 30 days while the application is posted for public review and comment; and (7) hope that the county approves the application. This expensive and lengthy process may mean loss of crop as farmers wait longer for well permit issuance.

Governor Newsom issued Executive Order N-7-22 in March of this year. This Executive Order prohibits a permitting agency, like a county, from approving a permit for a new groundwater well or alternations to an existing well without first (1) receiving written verification from a GSA that the proposed well will be consistent with that GSA’s GSP; and (2) determining that the proposed well will not interfere with existing nearby wells and cause subsidence that would damage nearby infrastructure.

Assembly Bill 2201 is not only redundant but goes far beyond the Governor’s Executive Order. There is already a working procedure in place for well permitting. Groundwater Sustainability Agencies have successfully worked in partnership with the counties that considers groundwater sustainability while processing permits in a streamlined and efficient way. Assembly Bill 2201 does not enhance this process but rather hinders it with impractical requirements.

Currently the bill is on the Senate floor. If passed by the Senate, the Governor has until September 30 to sign or veto the bill. The Kings River Conservation District has an oppose position on the bill.

On June 24, KRCD was honored with the American Society of Civil Engineer’s Region 9 Outstanding Sustainable Engineering Project award along with Provost & Pritchard for the design and construction of the McMullin On-Farm Flood Capture and Recharge project.

KRCD and Provost & Pritchard, in cooperation with Terranova Ranch Inc., and Bach and Associates, have planned and developed a system that will further groundwater sustainability in the region.

Terranova Ranch, Inc. has captured and utilized flood flows in the Fresno Slough when they are present, thereby reducing downstream flood impacts. The water has been spread on crop lands such as vineyards, alfalfa, and pistachios for in lieu groundwater recharge, wherein surface water is substituted for groundwater to reduce pumping. More recently, Terranova Ranch has captured flood flows for direct recharge (Bach and et al 2012; 2014).

Using existing farmlands to capture and recharge flood flows allows ranch management to continue their farming practices and replenish the groundwater table. 

With the implementation of Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014, projects like the one at Terranova Ranch will mean the difference between farming and fallowing lands.

A goal of the McMullin On-Farm Flood Capture and Recharge project is to convey water in both directions east and north, while having the ability to divert flood flows from the west. The design of this project includes the main conveyance system which provides the hydraulic backbone for diverting flood flows and conveyance to the participating farm fields.

On November 13, 2020, the Kings River Conservation District and Tulare Lake Resource Conservation District received over $1 million from the Watershed Restoration Grant to carry out important levee work along the Kings River. The California Department of Conservation grant is funding the Kings River Conservation District Improvement Project, a project that involves the removal of invasive plant species, overgrown brush, and debris from the Kings River’s banks and channels.

This work will provide flood protection to adjacent farmlands, allow for the efficient conveyance of flood water, and save an estimated 1,610 tons of carbon emissions in the Central Valley.

On April 5, 2021, work began on the project. Pascoe Bowen, KRCD’s Manager of Flood Operations and Maintenance, provided the following statement:

 

I am pleased to announce that on Monday we began our first full day of trash cleanup along the Kings River. Labor Finders has provided us with [two] temporary workers. After only one day we have already removed more than 1000 pounds of trash and taken it to the Kings Recycling Waste Authority… It’s great to see this project getting started and it’s already having a positive effect on the river system.

 

For more details about the Watershed Restoration Project, watch the video below.