California heavily depends on our enormous water reservoir: the Sierra Nevada snowpack. This year, that snowpack is in bad shape. The small snow reserve we had is already melting away fast. This is all occurring right after a very dry 2012 snow year.
Frank Gehrke is the official in charge of surveying snowpack to measure the amount of water that will flow into California’s reservoirs during spring and summer months. He recently completed his California snowpack survey and his findings weren’t encouraging:
“I’m finding nothing. Seriously, there is no snow on the course at all” – Frank Gehrke, chief surveyor for the Department of Water Resources/San Jose Mercury
Frank’s survey shows that the water content of the California snowpack is at 17% of normal. This doesn’t paint a pretty picture of our snowpack nor reflect much of a ski season (which we already know).
The good news is that California did have above average precipitation in the fall and that state water managers were smart enough to keep reservoirs as full as they safely could. Currently, Lake Oroville is at 86% of capacity and Lake Shasta is at 83% of capacity. These are California’s two largest reservoirs.
So far, officials are staying away from the nasty word ‘draught.’ But it doesn’t feel far off. Especially considering that 75% of the West’s freshwater supply and 30% of California’s freshwater supply come directly from snowmelt.
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“The November and December storms built California’s snowpack water content to 134 percent of normal by January 2, when DWR and cooperating agencies conducted this season’s first manual survey. Manual surveys and electronic readings have recorded the water content decline since dry weather set in. Statewide, the season’s second manual survey on January 29 found the snowpack water content at 93 percent of normal for the date. On February 28, the season’s third manual survey found the snowpack water content at 66 percent of average On March 28, about the time the snowpack is normally at its peak, its water content was recorded at 52 percent of normal.” – Department of Water Resources
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NASA has even gotten involved using a 100,000 pulses of light per second to map the snowpack of the Sierra Nevada by elevation. More on NASA’s California snowpack project here: NASA snowpack project. More on this soon.