A survey of the snowpack conducted by the California Department of Water Resources at the end of 2020 was as expected, not encouraging.
The snow survey conducted on December 30 showed the snowpack was just 11 percent of what the snowpack would be if it was April 1 in the Southern Sierra Region. As of December 30 the snowpack was 35 percent of normal in the Southern Sierra Region.
In the Central Sierra Region the snowpack was 21 percent of normal for April 1 and 59 percent of normal as of December 30.
In the Northern Sierra Region, the snowpack was 19 percent of normal for April 1 and 54 percent of normal as of December 30. For the state, the snowpack was at 52 percent of normal for this time of year and 18 percent of normal for April 1.
The Southern Sierra Region covers the local region, the Northern Sierra Region includes much of the Lake Tahoe area and the Central Sierra Region is in between.
So far as expected it's turning out to be a cool, dry winter. But while the snowpack survey doesn't bode well when it comes to water deliveries, the California Department of Water Resources stated the dry start doesn't always predict the season's outcome. The department, though. is urging conservation, noting last year also ended with a below average snowpack.
But it's still hopeful a handful of storms in January and February — the wettest months — can increase the snowpack substantially. And obviously snow in March would help as well.
“Today’s survey brought a first glimpse of how the state’s snowpack is shaping up, but there is a lot of winter still ahead,” said Sean de Guzman, chief of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section. “While the dry conditions during late summer and fall have led to a below average snowpack, it is still encouraging to have the amount of snow we already have with two of the three typically wettest months still to come.”
The record year for wildfires will also have a long-term affect on the snowpack. Many burned areas won't be able to retain as much snow. The burned areas also affect the snow's ability to retain water when it melts.
There was a bit of good news. A manual survey conducted at Phillips Station near Lake Tahoe found better results. The manual survey has been conducted since 1941.
The measurement there found the snowpack to be 93 percent of normal for this time of year and 42 percent of normal for April 1.
But when it comes to an overall outlook a headline on the Department of Water Resources website stated: “December Storms Not Enough to Offset California's Dry Fall.”
“The snow survey results reflect California’s dry start to the water year and provide an important reminder that our state’s variable weather conditions are made more extreme by climate change,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “We still have several months left to bring us up to average, but we should prepare now for extended dry conditions.”
Nemeth did add the department along with other state agencies and water districts is prepared to support the state's water needs if conditions remain dry.
The Sierra snowpack supplies about 30 percent of the state's water and determines how the Department of Water Resources manages the state's water.
At the beginning of December the Department of Water Resources announced an initial water allocation from the State Water Project that's just 10 percent of what's requested. That has been the initial allocation in recent years.
Last year's initial water allocation was also 10 percent and the final water allocation in May was 20 percent.
Officials have stated it's expected all sources of water provided, including the State Water Project, the federal Central Valley Project, streams, groundwater and local reservoirs will still be able to meet water needs.