Survey: Boost in snowfall won’t lift drought |

Survey: Boost in snowfall won’t lift drought

Griffin Rogers
Frank Gehrke measures snow depth and snow water content at Phillips Station near Echo Summit on Thursday. It was the California Department of Water Resource's third snow survey this season.
Griffin Rogers / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

It’s better than it was last month, but snowpack water content is still way below the season average, according to a snow survey conducted Thursday by the California Department of Water Resources.

That means the region’s drought will remain, and it isn’t likely to lift any time soon, surveyor Frank Gehrke said.

“Again, it’s just the reflection of the fact that what storms do come through are fairly modest,” he said, “and then the blocking high pressure ridge sets back in almost as soon as they’ve left the state.“

“It looks like we may have something tomorrow, but then that’s it,” Gehrke added. “High pressure back in, and then we’re back to where we are with the bright sunny weather and no snow accumulation.”

Fresh storms have helped bring more snow to the Sierra, resulting in a total of 25.7 inches of snow depth with 8.1 inches of snow water content at Phillips Station near Echo Summit.

Water content was about 33 percent of the long-term average.

March snowfall could boost those numbers before the season’s end. But even if it did, the amount wouldn’t be enough to reach typical season figures, Gehrke said.

Still, every little bit helps.

“It’s not going to materially change the outcome come this summer,” he said, “but it certainly gives the watershed a little bit of moisture.”

Storms this season are generally bringing only modest amounts of snow to the area, meaning that the region would need about 15 to 20 more of them in order to reach April 1 averages, Gehrke said. It’s a scenario that’s “not in the cards.”

“The weather patterns just aren’t producing that,” he said.

A lot of research is currently being conducted to figure out what is creating this year’s high-pressure pattern, he added. However, no exact cause has been identified at this time.

As for California’s water supply, results from Thursday’s survey confirm that it, still, is “in quite bad shape,” Gehrke said. A part of the problem is year-after-year water shortages.

“Our water system is really pretty resilient for a year and a half, or two years maybe,” he said. “But when you start having these dry years stacked on top of each other, your reservoir storage just keeps going down.”

DWR Director Mark Cowin said the key moving forward will be water conservation.

“We welcome the late storms, but they are not enough to end the drought,” he said in a statement. “We can’t control the weather but we can control the amount of water we use. This drought is a wake-up call that we all have to take water conservation seriously and make it a way of life.”

More snow is expected in South Lake Tahoe on Friday.

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