Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Snow survey confirms drought

FRANK GEHRKE, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Survey for the Department of Water Resources, right, deposits a core sample of the snow pack into a plastic bag held by Mountain Democrat reporter, Dawn Hodson, of Placerville, near the intersection of Sierra-at-Tahoe Road and Highway 50 at Phillips Station on Thursday, Jan. 30. Democrat photo by Shelly Thorene

From page A1 | February 03, 2014 | 5 Comments

While a picturesque flurry of snow hit the Sierras this past week, it won’t have much impact on water supplies according to the most recent snow survey that was conducted last Thursday.

Part of a statewide assessment, the measurements at Phillips Station, near Echo Summit, revealed snow that was more air than water according to Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Survey for the California Department of Water Resources.

After taking seven measurements, he came up with an average depth of 12.4 inches of snow with a water content of 1.4 percent, which is only 7 percent of average for this time of year.

“This is not very good news,” said Gehrke, noting that both the quantity of snowfall and water content were very low for January. “Normally the snow would be up to my head.”

Statewide the results are not much better. Manual and electronic readings on Thursday recorded the snowpack’s water content at only 12 percent of average for this time of year.

Gehrke said with the limited snowfall we’ve had to date, this season may turn out to be the second driest on record.

“An inch improvement in water content doesn’t really make any difference in runoff at this time,” he said. “We need about 18 inches to bring us back up to where we need to be. Without a significant change in the circulation pattern, we won’t get that.”

Gehrke added that a stubborn high pressure system off the West Coast appears to be the culprit in blocking winter storms from coming ashore. The current one has been situated off the coast for 14 months now and shows no signs of dissipating. “These can be of fairly long duration,” said Gehrke, adding that there is nothing anyone can do about it.

However, without more rain and snow, the effects will be felt throughout the state, he said, affecting water use, recreation, the generation of hydroelectric power, forest fires and agricultural production.

On Friday, Gehrke’s comments proved prophetic as the DWR issued a press release saying it was taking a series of steps to preserve the state’s water supply.

“The harsh weather leaves us little choice,” said DWR Director Mark Cowin. “If we are to have any hope of coping with continued dry weather and balancing multiple needs, we must act now to preserve what water remains in our reservoirs.

“Except for a small amount of carryover water from 2013, customers of the State Water Project (SWP) will get no deliveries in 2014 if current dry conditions persist and deliveries to agricultural districts with long-standing water rights in the Sacramento Valley may be cut 50 percent — the maximum permitted by contract — depending upon future snow survey results. It is important to note that almost all areas served by the SWP have other sources of water, such as groundwater, local reservoirs, and other supplies.”

DWR also asked the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to adjust water permit terms that control SWP and federal Central Valley Project (CVP) operations in order to preserve dwindling supplies in upstream reservoirs for farms, fisheries, and cities and towns as the drought continues.

According to the press release, while additional winter storms may provide some limited boost to reservoir storage and water deliveries, it would need to rain and snow heavily every other day from now until May to get us back to average annual rain and snowfall. Even then, California still would be in a drought, because normally wet December and January have been critically dry — and follow a record dry 2013 and a dry 2012.

“This historic announcement reflects the severity of California’s drought,” stated the release. “After two previous dry years, 2014 is shaping up as the driest in state history. Storage in key reservoirs now is lower than at this time in 1977, one of the two previous driest water years on record.

“Lake Oroville in Butte County, the principal SWP reservoir, is at 36 percent of its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity (55 percent of its historical average for the date). Shasta Lake north of Redding, California’s and the federal Central Valley Project’s (CVP) largest reservoir, is at 36 percent of its 4.5 million acre-foot capacity (54 percent of average for the date). San Luis Reservoir, a critical south-of-Delta reservoir for both the SWP and CVP, is at a mere 30 percent of its 2 million acre-foot capacity (39 percent of average for the date).”

The DWR said that never before in the 54-year history of the State Water Project has the agency announced a zero allocation to all 29 public water agencies that buy from the SWP. These deliveries help supply water to 25 million Californians and roughly 750,000 acres of irrigated farmland.

However, “carryover” water stored by local agencies and water transferred from willing sellers to buyers in critically short areas still will be delivered, as will emergency supplies for drinking, sanitation, and fire protection.

The DWR and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation have also petitioned the SWRCB for a series of changes to existing requirements including those governing freshwater outflows from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta; management of water quality regulations governing the Cross-Channel Gates along the Sacramento River; and other rules applying to reservoirs.

The federal CVP, which supplies much of the state’s agricultural water, is expected to announce its initial allocation next month. It also will be dismal, according to DWR, especially for irrigation-dependent farms on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

Water-short Valley farmers are expected to fallow thousands of acres, sending negative economic ripples through communities dependent on the agricultural economy.

As farmers will pump increasing amounts of groundwater, further depleting overtapped aquifers, Gov. Jerry Brown directed DWR to monitor groundwater levels, land subsidence and land fallowing as the drought persists.

Following Gov. Brown’s announcement earlier this month of a drought State of Emergency, Cal Fire has hired an additional 125 firefighters; other state agencies have offered assistance to communities at risk of drinking water shortages; fishing has been restricted on some waterways; and citizens have been asked to voluntarily cut back by 20 percent on their water usage.

”We need everyone in every part of the state to conserve water,” said Gov. Brown in his Jan. 22 State of the State address.

Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.


Discussion | 5 comments



EDH Fire Dept. annexing Latrobe

By Noel Stack | From Page: A1, 9 Comments

Motorcycle fatality in Greenwood

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1

Greenwood School being restored

By Rebecca Murphy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Cal Fire increasing staffing, hiring

By Cal Fire | From Page: B1

EID restricts watering days

By Michael Raffety | From Page: A1, 13 Comments

Lover’s Leap fall injures man

By Tahoe Tribune | From Page: A1

Tea Party meeting April 17

By Tea Party Patriots Of El Dorado Hills | From Page: A3, 73 Comments

Town Hall Meeting on Underage Drinking May 1

By El Dorado Hills Community Vision Coalition | From Page: A6

Floating body not a body

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A7

Old mill a goner

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A11, 18 Comments | Gallery



Murder? Suicide?

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 8 Comments

‘Drive Clean’

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 23 Comments

Middle class getting poorer?

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 54 Comments

Real estate lies

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 16 Comments

A great big thanks

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5



Ponderosa volleyball is a family affair

By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A8 | Gallery

Aussie team makes visit

By Special to the Democrat | From Page: A8

Griz have challenging day

By Mike Bush | From Page: A8 | Gallery

Outside with Charlie: Switch gear

By Charlie Ferris | From Page: A8

Roundup: April 15, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A9 | Gallery



At a glance: Take aim on fun

By Mimi Escabar | From Page: B2

Men to walk a mile in her shoes

By Center For Violence-Free Relationships | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Runners stampede for Sugarloaf scholarships

By El Dorado County Office of Education | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Team works to fight disease

By Placerville Kiwanis | From Page: B3

COOL School is accepting applications

By Rescue Union | From Page: B4

Band of Miwoks fund mission

By Shingle Springs Band Of Miwok Indians | From Page: B12



Crime Log: March 25-27

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A2

Weather stats 4-15-14

By Michael Raffety | From Page: A2



Numa Edward “Ed” Roberts

By Contributor | From Page: A2

Ronald Russell Rohrer

By Contributor | From Page: A2, 2 Comments


Real Estate



New York Times Crossword

By Contributor | From Page: A10


By Contributor | From Page: A10

Horoscope, Thursday, April 17, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A10

Horoscope, Wednesday, April 16, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A10

TV Listings

By Contributor | From Page: A10


By Contributor | From Page: A10

Flying McCoys

By Contributor | From Page: A10

Speed Bump

By Contributor | From Page: A10

Working It Out

By Contributor | From Page: A10


By Contributor | From Page: A10


By Contributor | From Page: A10