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News

California: current snowpack rivals largest on record

10/03/2023 - François-Xavier Branthôme
Thanks to several storm systems to begin the calendar year, California’s current snowpack is now on pace to match a historic record. The Department of Water Resources (DWR) reported on the overall snowpack at the third manual snow survey of the water year. The manual survey at Phillips Station, near Lake Tahoe, recorded 116.5 inches (2.95 m) of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 41.5 inches (1,05 m). The figures represent 177% of the average at the location for this point in the season. Statewide, the snowpack is even more robust at 190% of the March 3 average with a snow water equivalent is 44.7 (1.14 m) inches.
This snowpack actually rivals 1982-83 which is the largest snowpack on record. In fact, the Southern Sierra is actually still outpacing 1983 to date, as of this morning,” said Sean de Guzman, DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit Manager. “That’s still with more snow on the way and another month of accumulating snow before we see that peak snowpack.”

 Overall, the current snowpack is in a strong position with approximately one month remaining in the traditional wet season. However, there are significant differences between regions. The Southern Sierra snowpack is at 209% of the April 1 average. The Central Sierra is at 175%. The snow level in the Northern Sierra, which feeds into California’s largest two reservoirs, is reported as 136% of the April 1 average.

The current snowpack sets the stage for a strong year for water storage. de Guzman said that water supply forecasts look good, especially in the Central and Southern Sierra. However, the water supply forecasts for Lake Shasta and Lake Trinity are not quite as optimistic. DWR will continue to provide updated runoff forecasts as conditions change.
The precipitation that California has received in the recent days, combined with the nine atmospheric rivers during December and January have really helped ease some of those drought impacts in different parts of the state,” de Guzman explained. “We are hopeful that we will see more cold storms to add to our snowpack for the next month and help set up a long, slow melt period into spring.”

Despite storms, water challenges persist
As still more storms dumped new snow onto California’s burgeoning snowpack, water managers, farmers and environmentalists gathered in Sacramento in early March, at the 61st California Irrigation Institute Annual Conference, to discuss long-term challenges to secure a more certain water future.
In describing the state’s “hotter, drier new normal,” Karla Nemeth, director of the DWR, which operates the State Water Project, said the state’s water supply is much improved since last December.
Lake Shasta, California’s largest reservoir, was framed by heaps of snow last week. Its water level as of Monday had risen to 83% of historical average. But Nemeth warned that the state’s hydrology is variable, and snow levels in some regions are below average.
The snowpack is much more intense in the central and southern Sierra, less so in the northern part of the country,” Nemeth said. “In fact, we’re a little bit below average. These storms may push us over that, which would be terrific, but what is important is the northern part of the state is where we have our biggest reservoirs that feed both the state and federal water projects, which is really a backbone of water management here in California.”

Prior to the last few weeks of storms, she said, California had less than an inch (2.5 cm) of rain from late January to the first two weeks of February. “When it’s not raining, it’s actually getting drier, and that really represents a shift over our observed hydrology over the past hundred years.” Warmer temperatures, Nemeth said, have water managers looking at the amount of water lost to evapotranspiration. “We need to develop and appreciate the actual growing sliver of water that is either sinking into the soil or is evaporating given the role of temperature,” she said.

Source: agnetwest.com, California Farm Bureau Federation
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