No-Pack Snow Pack
April 7, 2015
The notice that California Gov. Jerry Brown would be present at Tuesday's snow survey at Phillips Station near Sierra-At-Tahoe Road and Highway 50 came late. But a couple of hours later, it became clear why the governor chose to witness a seemingly routine procedure at our presently uncharacteristically snowless part of the state.
At Philips Station, just a few miles away from South Lake Tahoe and standing on bare ground in front of dozens of reporters from around the country, Gov. Brown made a historic announcement, the first mandatory water restrictions order in the history of the State of California.
The announcement, however, was not the only historic part of his visit, which seemed to come at that right place and at the right time.
The snow survey was practically a formality. Brown watched as Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, placed his snow sampling aluminum tube on the bare ground, as if illustrating a point, to gather a reading of 0 snow and 0 inches of water content at Philips Station.
"One thing that we know is that we're standing on dry grass and we should be standing on 5-feet of snow," Brown told reporters.
The 0 measurement marked the first since snow surveys were initiated at Phillips Station in 1942.
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Gov. Brown's executive action, announced Tuesday, will aim for a 25-percent reduction of water consumption and will be measured relative to the usage in 2013.
"Now we are embarking upon an experiment no one has ever tried, ever, in the history of mankind. And that is, 38 million people with 32 million vehicles living at the level of comfort that we all strive to attain," Brown said.
The governor's comments revolved around the idea that Californians need to adapt to the reality California lives, combatting a changing climate, rising populations and shortage of water supply because of to drought. He also highlighted the levels of water usage in areas of the state with desert or desert-like climates, and how those standards of living may have to be adjusted.
"Thirty-eight million people cannot create an economy that generates over $2 trillion of wealth every year and use the water the way they did when there were 15 million people," he said.
"People should realize we're in a new era. The idea of your nice green grass getting lots of water everyday – that's going to be a thing of the past."
On Tuesday, Phillips station was not the only one to report bare ground, Gehrke said, 60- to 70- percent of the 240 manual measurements were also reflecting no snow.
The readings were historically significant, since the snowpack traditionally is at its peak by early April before it begins to melt, a Department of Water Resources press release stated. The electronic readings found that the statewide snowpack holds only 1.4 inches of water content, just 5-percent of the historical average of 28.3 inches for April 1.
According to the DWR, snowpack usually provides about 30 percent of the state's water.
The last snow survey at Phillips Station on March 3 also predicted a meager yield for the remainder of the season, and only produced any snow measurements because of snowfall in the days prior to the survey, Gehrke said. Had it not been for that snowfall in the leading days, that reading would have likely been similar to Tuesday's. The survey on March 3 reflected 0.9 inches of water content.
The governor's executive action states that the water board "shall impose restrictions to require that commercial, industrial and institutional properties, such as campuses, golf courses and cemeteries, immediately implement water efficiency measures to reduce potable water usage."
The order also prohibits irrigation with potable water of ornamental turf on public street medians, as well as irrigation with potable water outside of newly-constructed homes and buildings not delivered by drip or micro spray systems.
"We're looking for cooperation. We're looking for success. But in the end, if individuals and agencies don't reform, there will be repercussions, including potential fines," Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said.
"It's a different world," Brown said. "We have to act in it."