Despite storms, water remains scarce
SIERRA-AT-TAHOE – Spring snowstorms have heightened the morale of Lake Tahoe’s skiers and snowboarders, but won’t do much to bring California out of three years of drought, state water managers said Thursday.
Employees from the California Department of Water Resources measured an average of 65.7 inches of snow containing the equivalent of 25.9 inches of water at Phillips Station, near the entrance to Sierra-at-Tahoe, on Thursday morning.
The measurement brings the water content of the snowpack in the Central Sierra Nevada, which includes the Lake Tahoe region, to 92 percent of the area’s long term average, according to California Cooperative Snow Survey data.
But impressive snow totals at the Northern end of the mountain range have raised the statewide water content to 106 percent of average.
At this time last year, snow in the Sierra Nevada contained just 81 percent of its average historic water content.
The northern end of the range contains 126 percent of its normal water for this time of year, with some survey sites containing 180 to 190 percent of their long term average, said Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Survey on Thursday.
Gehrke said Thursday’s measurements were “not nearly” what had been hoped for at the start of February, but still allowed the Department of Water Resources to increase State Water Project allocations from 15 to 20 percent.
The State Water Project provides water to more than 25 million Californians and 750,000 acres of irrigated farmland. Deliveries from the project during the past ten years have averaged 68 percent of the amount requested by 29 public agencies with long term contracts with the State Water Project, according to a Thursday statement from the Department of Water Resources.
Last year the project delivered 40 percent of customer requests.
This year’s allocation could increase further depending on how today’s reading affects runoff projections from state hydrologists.
The final State Water Project allocation, to be set later this Spring, will partially depend on how pumping restrictions to protect fish including Delta smelt, salmon and longfin smelt are applied, according to the statement.
Snowpack typically peaks at the first of April, and the Department of Water Resources staff will conduct its final snow survey at the beginning of May.
“As the water picture for this year becomes clearer, we can increase our deliveries to farms and communities throughout the state,” said Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin in Thursday’s statement. “But the aftermath of three years of drought and regulatory restrictions on Delta pumping to protect fish species will keep this year’s allocation far below normal. This underscores, once again, the need to implement long-term solutions to improve water supply reliability.”
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