Survey: Snowpack still far below normal |

Survey: Snowpack still far below normal

Griffin Rogers
California Department of Water Resources snow surveyor Frank Gehrke, in the red jacket, measures the snowpack near Highway 50 and Sierra-At-Tahoe Road on Tuesday.
Griffin Rogers / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

The results of a Tuesday snow survey showed snowpack levels still far below normal, despite the arrival of more than two feet of new snow in some South Shore areas.

The survey, conducted by the California Department of Water Resources near Highway 50 and Sierra-At-Tahoe Road, was the final snow analysis in the area of the season. It showed 33.7 inches of snow depth and 8.1 inches of water content, which was 29 percent of the long-term average.

“This snow course was basically bare two days ago,” Surveyor Frank Gehrke said at the survey site Tuesday. “All of the snow that we measured just now came mostly last night, and it really illustrates the difference between a good water year and a bad water year.”

In a good water year, the region should receive eight to 10 storms like the ones South Shore has been getting over the past few days, he said. But this year, the area has only experienced about two or three storms.

“And that makes all the difference between good snow accumulation and marginal accumulation,” he said.

The amount of water content found during the survey, along with its long-term average, is among the lowest DWR has recorded in the area since 1941 or so, Gehrke said.

The recent South Shore snowfall helps. But in terms of what’s going to happen this summer with runoff, he said it’s “really of relatively minor importance.”

It also doesn’t look as if things will be improving by summer, as the snow season usually ends shortly after April 1. This doesn’t bode well for California’s reservoirs, which are below average.

“Basically we are finished with any realistic chances of further snow accumulation,“ Gehrke said. “So we’re obviously not looking all that promising for our spring and summer, certainly in terms of recovering on the reservoir storage.”

Without the runoff that would come from a normal amount of snowpack, California will continue to chip away at the percentage of available water in its reservoirs. Consequently, reservoir measurements later this year are expected to be lower than they are now.

“That’s clearly a cause for grave concern for all water users at this point throughout the state,” he said. “Trying to maximize that little bit of water that we do have I think is definitely going to be a challenge as we move through the rest of this year.”

DWR Director Mark Cowin seemed to mirror these thoughts. Farms and cities normally depend on the snowpack for a third of their water, according to a news release, and the snowpack’s statewide water content was at 32 percent of average Tuesday.

“We’re already seeing farmland fallowed and cities scrambling for water supplies,” Cowin said in a statement. “We can hope that conditions improve, but time is running out and conservation is the only tool we have against nature’s whim.”

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