Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada was 16 inches deeper than normal for this time of year, a good indicator that winter storms are already making a dent in the punishing drought that left California with record-low water supplies for the past four years, state officials reported Wednesday.
The first human snow survey of the October-to-September rain year found 16.3 inches of water content, 136 percent of the Jan. 1 average for that site, according to the state Department of Water Resources. The reading compares to the 5 percent of average snow content taken at the same location April 1, a survey that produced the image of Gov. Jerry Brown standing on dirt that went viral and set in motion mandatory water conservation measures.
Wednesday’s snow survey took place 6,800 feet in elevation, off Highway 50 near Sierra-at-Tahoe Road, 90 miles east of Sacramento at the Phillips Station.
DWR Director Mark Cowin said the heavy snowfall so far during Water Year 2016 “has been a reasonable start, but another three or four months of surveys will indicate whether the snowpack’s runoff will be sufficient to replenish California’s reservoirs by this summer.”
Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, said more than four years of drought have left a water deficit around the state that may be difficult to overcome in just one winter season.
The state’s largest six reservoirs currently hold between 22 percent (New Melones) and 53 percent (Don Pedro) of their historical averages in late December. Storage in Lake Shasta, California’s largest surface reservoir, is 51 percent of its December 30 average.
Electronic snowpack readings throughout the Sierra are at 108 percent of the multi-decade average for this date.
California gets about one-third its water from snowpack in Northern California. Melting snowpack feeds into key reservoirs, which hold water that is eventually released through the State Water Project to Central and Southern California cities.