Dry conditions in California reduce Sierra Nevada snowpack
Associated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO (AP) ” The Sierra Nevada snowpack, a key source of California’s water supply, has fallen well below normal levels after California experienced its driest two-month period on record, state water officials said Thursday.
Department of Water Resources scientists found snowpack water content averaging only 67 percent of normal throughout the 400-mile-long mountain range. Levels were 88 percent of normal in the northern Sierra and about 60 percent of normal in the central and southern regions.
Frank Gehrke, the snow survey chief at California’s Department of Water Resources, said dry, sunny conditions in March and April melted what was an average snowpack earlier this year. In addition, soils parched from last year’s drought are soaking much of the early snowmelt.
“It’s a knock-out punch to have that combination,” Gehrke told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Echo Summit.
At the summit just south of Lake Tahoe, scientists measured 3.3 inches of snow in a meadow on Thursday. That’s only 11 percent of what is expected there at this time of year.
The amount of water running into streams and reservoirs is only 55 to 65 percent of normal, according to the figures collected by the Department of Water Resources.
That’s one of the reasons federal and state water managers have reduced water exports so far this year.
Water deliveries also have been cut to comply with a federal judge’s order that limits pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta by as much as 30 percent to protect the delta smelt, a threatened fish species.
The pumping restrictions, last year’s drought and this year’s dry conditions have left the state’s reservoirs lower than normal. Lake Oroville, the state’s principal storage reservoir, is less than half full.
“It’s going to be a rough decade,” said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies. “You will see mandatory rationing, I believe.”
Last May, the Sierra snowpack was just 29 percent of normal, the lowest since 1988.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the most recent snow survey underscores his argument that California should conserve more water and build more dams.
“These actions are vital to protect our environment, economy and quality of life,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement. “I know that legislative leaders share my goal of comprehensive water reform, but time is running out. The longer we wait, the worse our situation becomes.”
The Democratic-controlled Legislature has blocked Republican proposals to build dams, favoring increased water conservation measures and water recycling as way to meet the needs of California’s population, now at 37.7 million.