Deep snow on the way
March 1, 2006
Wake up, Tahoe: Not one drop of rain is predicted for a huge cold winter storm moving in this morning from the Gulf of Alaska.
Forecasters at the National Weather Service expect 10 to 20 inches of snow at lake level, and 2 to 3 feet above 7,000 feet through Friday afternoon.
After several rainstorms at lake level this season, precipitation is 145 percent above average through February in the Tahoe region, according to hydrologist Gary Barbato with the weather service. Last year at this time, it was 141 percent above average, but all of it had fallen as snow.
It means the Tahoe region is on track for staying out of drought, Barbato said.
A government snow survey reported Wednesday that the snowpack’s water content is 70 to 84 percent of average.
While many communities outside of Tahoe watch closely for the monthly survey because it tells them how much water they’ll have in reservoirs come summer, experts here say they don’t track snowpack numbers that closely.
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“It’s not as critical to us as it is to the West Slope because their concern is how much runoff is going into the reservoirs. They count on that surface water storage,” said Dennis Cocking, spokesman for South Tahoe Public Utility District, which serves most of South Shore through deep groundwater wells.
Snowpack as well as good precipitation ensures underground aquifers are adequately recharged, Barbato said. South Shore does not use enough water to significantly affect its aquifer.
“You have no agricultural community, you are not growing crops and have a huge water source in your back yard,” Barbato said. “Others are not so lucky.”
Even in the height of a severe drought in the 1980s, the water level of the utility’s deep wells only dropped three feet, Cocking said.
“What it proved to us is the recharge capability of the Sierra Nevada is incredible,” Cocking said. “We have learned from experience that we are in pretty darn good shape.”
Smaller water utilities in Tahoe can feel the impact. That drought in the 1980’s dried up wells in the Al Tahoe area, Cocking said.