No drought relief yet, despite strong Sierra snowpack

The manual snow survey revealed a water content of 97% of historical average -- a strong showing, but not strong enough to significantly alleviate the water deficits of the past four years of drought.

Content Dam Ww Online Articles 2016 03 Snow Survey Dec 30
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Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, (right), conducts a survey Dec. 30, 2015.

CALIFORNIA, March 31, 2016 -- The manual snow survey taken at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada today revealed a water content of 97% of historical average -- a strong showing, but not strong enough to significantly alleviate the water deficits of the past four years of drought.

That was the take-away from the March 30 snow survey -- both manual and electronic -- taken throughout the state. Snow readings taken by state officials in late March or early April are typically envisioned as strong indicators of the strength of spring run-off since snow is at its peak depth. Strong snow melt from the Sierras is crucial to filling critical reservoirs throughout the state and meeting the state’s water needs.

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, said that this “March started out like gangbusters” as far as increased precipitation, but the weather pattern did not continue into the latter part of the month. He added that February was a “complete loss,” so while the March 30 survey is showing strong results in some places, the snow levels are not high enough to alleviate drought concerns.

Statewide, water content of the mountain snowpack is only 87% of the March 30 historical average.

“”It’s obviously so much better than last year…,” said Gehrke, referring to the snow survey April 1 last year where Gov. Jerry Brown stood in a barren field. “(But) it’s not what we had hoped for.”

Gehrke added that water conditions are better in the north of the state than in the south. He said reservoirs statewide are about 90% of average, which is “encouraging,” but not strong enough to halt the “downward spiral we’ve been in these last two years.”

”El Niño didn’t behave as a typical El Niño….We’re giving up on this season,” he added. “The likelihood of major storm activity is non-existent.”

Gehrke said that water conservation continues to be crucial for all Californians.

Officials said the statewide readings are much better compared to last year, when the water content of the snowpack was only 5% of normal, the lowest dating back to 1950. Today, the statewide snowpack’s water content is 24.4 inches, 87% of average.

Electronic readings of northern Sierra Nevada snow conditions found ­28.1 inches of water content (97% of average for March 30), 25.2 inches in the central region (88% of average) and 19.3 inches in the southern region (72 % of average).

About ACWA
The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) is the largest statewide coalition of public water agencies in the country. Its 430 public agency members collectively are responsible for 90% of the water delivered to cities, farms and businesses in California.

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