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It's official: 2020 was a very dry year

But Sierra snowpack offers hope that wetter days may be ahead

Bucket with just a bit of water in the bottom
We received a little more rainfall than this in
December -- though not much more. The
"wet" months are starting, but conserving
water remains a top concern.
(Photo: Kathy Morrison)

It’s official: 2020 was a very dry year in Sacramento.

Even though we closed out December with scattered showers, our overall rain total fell far short of average. According to the National Weather Service, Sacramento totaled 6.81 inches for the year – 11.6 inches below our average of 18.41.

Fortunately, 2019 was a very wet year, totaling 24.49 inches, and that moisture kept our reservoirs relatively full. And we have several “wet” months to come.

Some more good news: The New Year snowpack survey – taken Wednesday at Phillips Station near South Lake Tahoe – found the Sierra snowpack at 93% of average for Jan. 1.

Elsewhere around the state, the snowpack was much lower. According to the state’s Department of Water Resources, electronic readings from 130 stations throughout the state indicate the statewide snowpack average at 52% of the Dec. 30 average.

Experts are optimistic about Sacramento’s water picture for 2021.

“While the statewide snowpack demonstrates an unseasonably dry start to the rainy season, it’s important to remember that our wettest months of the year are still to come,” said Jim Peifer, executive director of the Regional Water Authority, the umbrella organization that represents 20 local water providers in the Greater Sacramento area.

“Overall, the Sacramento region’s water supplies are in excellent shape. This is due in large part to the investments made over the past decade in our ability to switch between groundwater and surface water according to availability, and to move water between communities.”

So, we’re in pretty good shape now – as long as it rains in January, February and March.

“But we also know that California’s rainfall is often feast or famine—with flood one year and drought the next,” Peifer added. “Climate change is projected to make this swing happen more often and with more intensity: The wet days will get wetter, and the dry days will get drier.”

We saw that in the almost 18-inch difference between 2019 and 2020 rain totals.

“Water managers are actively preparing for this future reality with a comprehensive water resilience portfolio—
the WaterFuture Initiative —encompassing our entire ‘supershed’ from the mountain tops of the American River watershed to the groundwater basin below the valley floor,” Peifer said. “Regardless of the weather, it’s also important for residents to continue using water efficiently.”

Two easy actions to take now: Turn off the sprinklers and check for leaks around the house.

“Give your sprinklers a winter break,” Peifer said. “Winter’s shorter and cooler days mean that yards won’t need as much water as they did during fall and summer.

Toilet tank with lid removed
The website includes instructions
on replacing a leaky toilet flapper, among other water-saving
tips. (Screenshot)
“Take some time to fix household leaks, especially toilet leaks,” he added. “A leaking toilet is the most common type of leak found inside the home and can waste 200 gallons of water per day. That’s enough to wash seven loads of laundry every day for a month.”

Make saving water your New Year’s resolution. Get more water-saving tools and tips at .


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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Oct. 2

Plan to make the most of the mild weather in your garden.

* October is the best month to plant trees and shrubs.

* October also is the best time to plant perennials in our area. Add a little well-aged compost and bone meal to planting holes or beds, but hold off on other fertilizers until spring. Keep the transplants well-watered (but not wet) for the first month as they become settled.

* Now is the time to plant seeds for many flowers directly into the garden, including cornflower, nasturtium, nigella, poppy, portulaca, sweet pea and stock.

* Plant seeds for radishes, bok choy, mustard, spinach and peas.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Set out cool-weather bedding plants, including calendula, pansy, snapdragon, primrose and viola.

* Reseed and feed the lawn. Work on bare spots.

* Dig up corms and tubers of gladioluses, dahlias and tuberous begonias after the foliage dies. Clean and store in a cool, dry place.

* Treat azaleas, gardenias and camellias with chelated iron if leaves are yellowing between the veins.

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