Snowpack about half of norm |

Snowpack about half of norm

Emily Aughinbaugh

National Weather Service meteorologists don’t foresee any wet relief to the dry winter in the next couple of weeks.

Meteorologist Dave Pike said a pattern of smaller systems will come through in the next few weeks producing a couple of inches of snow.

Pike said the Tahoe Basin should be dry until Monday, with lows in the 20s and highs in the 50s and 60s.

Although the winter is still young, February’s Sierra snowpack measurements point to a dry year.

The snowpack’s depth and water content measured Friday at the entrance to Sierra-at-Tahoe were 58 percent of normal for this time of year, a disappointing measurement to California Department of Water Resource officials who are relying on the rest of the month to boost water levels.

“We’re right before the trip wire and we don’t want to get any closer,” said Jeff Cohen, DWR public information officer. “We’re all about half of where we should be. We’re going to have to keep watching this throughout the next month to see if this should be considered a dry year.”

The snowpack measured 41 inches deep, down 5.3 inches from last year.

Water content, the most important measurement to hydrologists, farmers and utility companies, was 11.1 inches, two inches shy of last February’s measurement.

More than 40 percent of the state’s drinking and irrigation water comes from the snowpack, and one-third of Northern California’s electricity comes from hydropower.

Farmers rely on water content reports to determine crop planting patterns and irrigation schedules. And public utilities use the measurements to determine how much of their electric energy will come from hydropower and how much will be generated by oil, coal and atomic fuel.

Many North Shore customers will feel the below average water levels this summer when hydroelectrical resources might be limited, according to the Northern California Power Agency, an organization of local power agencies, rural electric cooperatives and irrigation districts.

“If the rainfall and snowpack don’t come up to average in the balance of the winter and rainy season then (Truckee/Donner customers) will be negatively impacted as well as the rest of our members who rely on hydropower to generate electricity through the summer,” John Fistolera, NCPA’s legislative director said.

Power company officials said South Shore customers shouldn’t be affected immediately by a dry year.

Randy Kelly, Sierra Pacific Power Company’s Tahoe District Manager, said the basin gets its power from Nevada. However, Kelly said a dry season could someday create a power crisis that extends outside of California.

“Right now we don’t have the same issues as California,” Kelly said. “We’re doing everything we can to keep things going for us, but in the long term the western area (of the United States) could be affected if there are insufficient resources out there.”

Kelly said Sierra Pacific purchases 50 percent of its of power and hopes to obtain as much of it as possible from hydropower.

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