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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 bewatersmart.info/videos 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 bewatersmart.info .

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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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