Snow survey confirms dry start to year
Local rainfall 10th driest on record
It’s official, and it’s not good news for thirsty Californians: January and February have been the driest on record.
The monthly snow survey, anticipated by farmers and municipalities who depend on snowmelt to supplement water supplies, showed Thursday what everyone has known: despite a few good dumps the state hasn’t received the kind of major storms needed to ease water managers’ worries.
“It’s disappointing, but not really a surprise,” said Frank Gehrke, who as head of California’s cooperative snow survey program takes manual measurements once a month near Echo Summit in El Dorado County to supplement electronic monitoring.
Gehrke measured 29 inches of snow with a water content of 13.4 inches. The dismal numbers are twice as much as what was on the ground at this time last year, he said.
Surveyors with the Sequoia National Forest measured on average 18.5 inches of snow containing 7.7 inches of water. That is better than a year ago, but the fourth-least amount of snow and water in the past decade.
On Thursday, Alan Frame, forest assistant with Mt. Home State Demonstration Forest, said they measured 25.1 inches of snow containing 9.6 inches of water at the Old Enterprise Mill snow course at 6,600 foot elevation above Springville.
That compares to 18.3 inches of snow and 6.5 inches of water the same time last year. The average is 38.9 inches of snow with 14.4 inches of water.
There is potentially good news coming by the middle of next week when the National Weather Service forecasts a sizeable storm that could bring more than two feet of snow across the northern and southern Sierra and up to three-quarters of an inch of rain to the Valley.
“The system we’re tracking looks fairly potent,” said meteorologist Drew Peterson. “It will really help the snowpack and help alleviate the dry start to the calendar year.”
Historically about 15 percent of the state’s annual precipitation falls in March. Gehrke measured the moisture content of the snowpack at 57 percent of average for the season that ends April 1. Locally, it was 41 percent.
California’s Sierra Nevada snowpack provides about one-third of the water used in the state as it melts to fill reservoirs and rivers and replenish aquifers. Water is then delivered from the water-rich north through a system of state and federal canals that have turned arid southern deserts into thriving cities and rich farmland.
Rainfall since Jan. 1 in Porterville is just 1.75 inches, not the driest January-February on record. Nine times since 1895 the first two months of the year have been drier with just 0.64 of rainfall during the first two months of 1984.
Southern California water users have been told to expect 40 percent of their allocation based on current measurements. Local farmers have been told to expect 65 percent of their allocation out of Millerton Lake, but that could drop.
Already some of the state’s most prolific Central California farmers have been told they’re on target to receive just one quarter of their standard allotment, in part because of the lack of precipitation and in part because siphoning water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has become more challenging in order to protect a smelt.
Those early storms left the state’s northern reservoirs in better shape: Lake Shasta, the largest in the federal Central Valley Water Project system, and Lake Oroville in Butte County, the State Water Project’s largest, are at roughly 80 percent capacity.