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Monday, April 1, 2013

California Snow Survey: Snowpack 52% of normal

Snow Survey Dramatically Shows Dry Conditions

Snowpack water content 52 percent of normal
Keith Swanson (left) and Frank Gehrke prepare to take water samples at Phillips Station in El Dorado County.
Photo: Randall Benton,
SACRAMENTO – Snow surveyors today reported that water content in California’s snowpack is only 52 percent of normal, with the spring melt season already under way.
“With most of the wet season behind us, this is more gloomy news for our summer water supply,” said DWR Director Mark Cowin. 

After a record dry January and February in much of the state, DWR on Friday decreased its water delivery estimate, or allocation, from 40 to 35 percent of requested amounts from the State Water Project (SWP).

The 29 public agencies that purchase SWP water requested just over four million acre-feet of water for this calendar year. Collectively, the agencies supply more than 25 million Californians and nearly a million acres of irrigated agriculture.

Pumping restrictions imposed this winter to protect Delta smelt and salmon are another reason for the low water delivery estimate. November and December were unusually wet, but between November 1 and February 28, fishery agency restrictions prevented DWR from pumping more than 550,000 acre-feet of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to store in San Luis Reservoir. Today San Luis – a summer supply pool for both the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project – is 63 percent full.

“This is the kind of conflict we are working to resolve through the Bay Delta Conservation Plan,” said Cowin.
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan would reduce harm to fish from altered stream flows caused by the south Delta pumps serving the SWP and Central Valley Project. Pumping there at times causes reverse flows which may disorient or entrain fish. The comprehensive plan’s large-scale habitat restoration would also improve Delta conditions for fish and wildlife.

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 Today’s survey – finding snowpack water content at only 52 percent of normal -- is particularly significant because this is the time of year the snowpack normally is at its peak before slowly melting with warming weather. 

The season’s final survey on or about the first of May will check the rate at which the snowpack is melting. Snow normally provides about a third of the water for California’s homes and farms as it melts into streams, reservoirs and aquifers.

Electronic snowpack readings may be found at:
Electronic reservoir level readings are available at:

Survey: California snowpack only 52 percent of normal

By TIM HEARDEN - Capital Press

REDDING, Calif. - A much-awaited snowpack survey March 28 merely confirmed what California water officials already knew: it's turned out to be a dry year.

After a record dry January and February in much of the state, the California Department of Water Resources found the snowpack water content to be only 52 percent of normal for this time of year.

Whatever April brings, that's probably as good as it's going to get because the snow typically starts melting by now, said Ted Thomas, the DWR's chief spokesman.

"Most likely this will be the peak," Thomas said. "The bright spot is thanks to storms in November and December, our reservoirs are near or slightly above their historical average in storage."

Indeed, the total storage statewide is at 97 percent of normal, according to the DWR's California Data Exchange Center. Shasta Lake, the centerpiece of the Central Valley Project, is slightly above its average for this time of year. The same is true for Lake Oroville.

However, the light snowpack prompted officials last week to further cut State Water Project allocations from 40 percent to 35 percent of requested amounts. The project supplies water to more than 25 million Californians and nearly a million acres of irrigated agriculture, according to a news release.

Pumping restrictions imposed this winter to protect Delta smelt and salmon are another reason for the low water delivery estimate, officials said.

Likewise, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced it was decreasing agricultural water service contractors' allocations from 25 percent to 20 percent of normal supplies south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Ag contractors north of the Delta will get 75 percent of their contract supply of 443,000 acre-feet, the agency announced.

Farmers are already feeling the pinch from the lack of rainfall. Greg Hawes, who grows wheat and walnuts in the Redding area, said his farm has received barely enough rain for the season. And he knows it could be worse.

"I was down in the Los Banos area three weeks ago and holy smokes," he said. "There's fields there just drying up. I hope April's wet."

The dry conditions come after November and December storms pushed California's snowpack water content to 134 percent of normal as of Jan. 2, when the DWR and other agencies did the season's first manual survey.

But by the third manual survey in February, the snowpack water content had dwindled to 66 percent of average, the state's news release explained.

Some help could be on the way.

The federal Climate Prediction Center foresees above-average chances of precipitation in much of California through at least the first half of April, although more long-range forecasts show a return to a dry pattern.

"A wet April could make a difference," Thomas said. "The long-range forecast is for below-average precipitation, but definitely a wet April could improve things."

March rainfall:

Here are the March and seasonal rainfall totals and comparisons to normal for selected California cities, according to the National Weather Service. Totals are as of March 28:

Redding: Month to date 2.2 inches (normal 4.07 inches); season to date 22.87 inches (normal 29.3 inches)

Eureka: Month to date 2.67 inches (normal 4.56 inches); season to date 27.85 inches (normal 34.04 inches)

Sacramento: Month to date 0.66 inches (normal 2.56 inches); season to date 13.27 inches (normal 16.29 inches)

Modesto: Month to date 0.17 inches (normal 1.9 inches); season to date 7.64 inches (normal 11.25 inches)

Salinas: Month to date 0.37 inches (normal 2.09 inches); season to date 8.61 inches (normal 11.29 inches)

Fresno: Month to date 0.33 inches (normal 1.88 inches); season to date 5.19 inches (normal 9.76 inches)

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