Funding for Atmospheric Rivers Research and Stormwater Capture Approved by CA Legislature

By on June 17, 2019

Legislation authored by Sen. Bill Dodd (D-3rd District -Napa), along with Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-2nd District-Santa Rosa), for funding to research and better understand and forecast atmospheric rivers for improved flood control and water retention has been approved by the California Legislature. The $9.25 million will be included in the California Legislature’s 2019-2020 budget and has been supported by a coalition of California water agencies including the Orange County Water District (OCWD), Sonoma Water, San Diego County Water Authority, Turlock Water and Power, Yuba Water Agency, and the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA).

The coalition was developed in 2018 to gain state funding for research to improve observations, forecasts and decision support of atmospheric river (AR) precipitation events in California. The legislation – and anticipated appropriation — will fund the Atmospheric Rivers: Research, Mitigation, and Climate Forecasting Program (AR Program) at the California Department of Water Resources (DWR).

“This is a smart investment to protect our precious water resources in the most efficient way possible,” Sen. Dodd said. “It will give our state the additional tools it needs to forecast extreme rain and control how much water we save as we face increasingly unpredictable conditions brought on by global warming.”

About half of the state’s annual rainfall and 90 percent of its flooding come from AR events. Water managers may be able to use the forecasts to retain water they would otherwise release, resulting in a cost savings and a more reliable water supply, while preserving and enhancing flood control capabilities in often drought-stricken California.

Enhanced AR science and forecasting tools will provide better predictions of the status and intensity of ARs and FIRO predictions. FIRO – or Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations — is defined by the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes as a proposed management strategy that uses data from watershed monitoring and modern weather and water forecasting to help water managers selectively retain or release water from reservoirs in a manner that reflects current and forecasted conditions.

Speaking with the Yuba Water Agency, Vicente Sarmiento, president of OCWD, noted that the AR funding has implications for reservoirs operated around the state, including Oroville and Prado Dam (in Riverside County.)

“The Orange County Water District is grateful to Senator Dodd and Assemblymember Wood for their efforts in securing funding for FIRO research,” said Sarmiento. “With better weather forecasting, an additional 20,000 acre-feet of storage space could be made available for stormwater capture behind Prado Dam without impacting flood risk. Doing so would allow OCWD to capture and use an additional 20,000-acre feet or 6.5 billion gallons of stormwater in a wet year which would otherwise drain to the Pacific Ocean. That’s enough water for 160,000 people.”