Gloomy forecast for snowpack

By From page A1 | April 01, 2013

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FRANK GEHRKE Department of Water Resources Chief of California Cooperative Snow Surveys, right, and Keith Swanson Department of Water Resources Chief of Division of Flood Management conduct a snow survey at Phillips Station March 28. Democrat photo by Krysten Kellum

There wasn’t much new to report when the California Department of Water Resources conducted its second-to-last snow survey on March 28.

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Survey for DWR, began the survey by pointing out that the hole he sank last month to measure the snowpack was still visible.

“That tells you what kind of a year we’ve had,” he said, noting that it is unusual for it to be this dry for three months straight.

After taking several samples, Gehrke announced the average snow depth at Phillips Station was 13 inches with a water content of 6.1 inches or 32 percent of normal. Last year this time, the snow depth was 31 inches and the water content was 11 inches.

According to the DWR, the statewide snowpack is at only 52 percent of normal, with the spring melt season already under way.

“This is obviously not good news,” said Gehrke, “but there’s no surprise because of the low amount of precipitation. But we’re still encouraged because reservoir storage is at 95 to 97 percent for the end of March.

“Most of the snow on the ground is what fell in December and less than an inch has been added between January through March,” Gehrke said. “All the water purveyors are on reservoir watch this year. Our storage will get us through but we will need heightened awareness for next year.”

Gehrke noted that for two years California has had below average snowpacks. “If we have another, it will be quite serious,” he said. “We’d need to have a deluge of 22 inches of rain, or 220 inches of snow, to get the state back to normal.” While he doesn’t expect that to happen, he did predict more rain in April.

Normally California receives more than 90 percent of its rain and snow from December through April.

Reservoir storage will help California cope with this drier than usual year. According to DWR, Lake Oroville, the State Water Project principal storage reservoir, is at 108 percent of its average level to date and Lake Shasta, the federal Central Valley Project’s largest reservoir, is at 102 percent of its normal storage level. However the San Luis Reservoir is only 63 percent full.

As of March 28, DWR estimated it would be able to deliver 35 percent of the slightly more than 4 million acre-feet of water requested by the 29 public agencies that distribute State Water Project water to domestic and agricultural users. The delivery estimate was reduced from 40 percent due to dry weather and pumping restrictions to protect Delta smelt and salmon.

“A lot of agricultural users have already been put on notice we will be cutting back,” Gehrke added. “But how much depends on where they are getting their water from.”

Gehrke said 284 people besides himself sample the snow manually throughout the Sierra during the period March 23 to April 3. DWR also collects snowpack information electronically.

The final snow survey for the season will be conducted on May 2 and will include the rate at which the snowpack is melting.

Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.

Dawn Hodson

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