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Storage Facilities Filled to Brim by Storm - But Still Not Much to Drink

February 14, 1992

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ This week’s California storms told a tale of water, water everywhere, but not that much of it could be saved to ease five years of drought.

And a federal agency that is the state’s largest water supplier told some farmers in the state’s Central Valley today that, for the first time in 50 years, they’ll get no water for irrigation this year.

As one of the worst storms of the century dumped more than a foot of rain on some areas, Los Angeles County’s water storage facilities quickly filled to the brim this week.

And as the pictures of floodwaters spilling out of flood-control channels and cascading into the Pacific Ocean showed, a lot of the water got away.

″Because it’s raining cats and dogs″ it is impossible to snare all the water for future use, said Allen Gribnau, the planning section chief for the county Public Works Department’s operations center.

″We try to capture as much of the runoff as possible ... (but) with so much water, we have to make releases out of dams for flood control,″ he said. ″Flood control would obviously take precedence.″

Los Angeles, cupped inside a mountain-ringed basin, is particularly vulnerable to flooding, Gribnau said.

This week’s storms killed at least seven people and swamped hundreds of homes and businesses with water and mud.

To conserve as much water as possible, Public Works officials regulate its release from 20 area dams into 27 spreading grounds scattered throughout the county, Gribnau said. The water sinks into the ground to be tapped by local water agencies.

″So far, we’ve captured and spread about 9,000 acre-feet of water,″ he said.

But with so much coming at once, some had to go straight to the ocean, rather than into the ground, as limited storage and spreading space quickly filled.

Ground-water storage can provide about 200,000 acre-feet of water annually; the county’s total yearly water use is slightly under 2 million acre-feet, Gribnau said.

An acre-foot, or 43,560 cubic feet, is enough water to cover an acre of land to a depth of one foot.

Most of Los Angeles County’s water is imported from the Colorado River or Northern California, where rain and mountain snow runoff flow into reservoirs.

Water there remains so scarce that the federal Central Valley Project said today it will cut off all deliveries to most farmers this year for the first time in its five-decade history.

Don Paff of the federal Bureau of Reclamation said deliveries to farmers along the west side of the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys will be cut off altogether and cities will receive half their normal supplies.

″Farmers knew that anything was possible″ with this year looming as the sixth consecutive drought year, said California Farm Bureau Federation spokesman Mike Henry.

The State Water Project, the other major government supplier of water to farms and cities, continued its forecast of 20 percent supplies to agriculture and urban customers.

The snowpack that supplies Northern California’s reservoirs is currently at 59 percent of normal, said Dick Wagner, a spokesman with the state Department of Water Resources.

The reservoirs supplied by the snowpack contain only about a third of the amount of water they should have at this time of year, Wagner said.