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Snow Surveyors Again Find Sparse Snowpack in Sierra

620dryyears013114Dept_Water_Resources_iconFreshly fallen snow from recent storms brightened the scenery but did nothing to improve California’s drought as the Department of Water Resource’s second snow survey found far too little water in the still scant snowpack.

“This winter remains dry, making it very unlikely our record drought will be broken this year,” said DWR Director Mark Cowin. “Now more than ever, we all need to save every drop we can in our homes and places of work.”

Manual and electronic readings today record the snowpack’s statewide water content at only 12 percent of average for this time of year. That is a mere 7 percent of the average April 1st measurement when the snowpack normally is at its peak before melting into streams and reservoirs to provide about a third of the water used by California’s cities and farms.

Prior to today, the lowest snowpack water content readings for this time of year were 21 percent of average for the date in 1991 and 1963, 22 percent in 1976, 25 percent in 1977 and 35 percent in 2012, the first year of the drought now pushing its way into a third consecutive year. These statewide records go back to 1960.

Electronic readings from remote sensors indicate that water content in the northern mountains is 6 percent of normal for the date and 4 percent of the April 1st average. Electronic readings in the central Sierra show 15 percent of normal for the date and 9 percent of the April 1st average. The numbers for the southern Sierra are 14 percent of average for the date and 8 percent of the April 1st average.

DWR and cooperating agencies conduct manual surveys on or about the first of the month from January to May. The manual measurements supplement and check the accuracy of real-time electronic readings.

Not only is water content in the mountain snowpack – often referred to California’s largest reservoir – low, but so are the state’s major water supply reservoirs.

What remains of Lake Oroville ~ Photo courtesy Department of Water Resources
What remains of Lake Oroville ~ Photo courtesy Department of Water Resources

The reservoir storage from winter 2012 storms that got most of California through last year’s record dry weather is depleted, with each day reducing the odds that the rain and spring snowpack runoff will replenish supplies before summer.

Lake Oroville in Butte County, the State Water Project’s principal reservoir, is only at 36 percent of its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity. At Lake Shasta, California’s largest reservoir, is at 36 percent of its 4.5 million acre-foot capacity and 53 percent of its historical average for this time of year.

Not only was 2013 California’s driest calendar year on records going back to 1895, but this month may go into the records as the driest ever January.

State Climatologist Michael Anderson noted that statewide, only 1.53 inches of rain was recorded from October through December, also the lowest aggregate total in records going back to 1895. The aggregate average for the period is 7.87 inches.

California’s average aggregate rainfall for the entire Water Year, October 1st through September 30th, is 22.90 inches, meaning the state needs more than 21 inches added to the October-December total just to get back to normal.

“We are in record dry territory and this needs to be stressed,” said Anderson.

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Jeremy Couso
Jeremy Couso
SusanvilleStuff.com Publisher/Editor
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