Saturday, 25 May 2024

First winter survey shows below-normal snowpack

The state's snowpack is getting off to a thin start, but state officials hope that the storms that started hitting areas of Northern California on Thursday will give the state's water supply a much-needed boost.

The state Department of Water Resources held the first of five manual snow surveys for the 2007-08 winter season on Thursday near Echo Summit off Highway 50, on the way to Lake Tahoe.

Thursday's readings showed the statewide snowpack averaging 60 percent of normal, only one percentage point above this time last year, according to Water Resources.


Electronic sensor readings show Northern Sierra snow water equivalents at 64 percent of normal for this date, Central Sierra at 53 percent and Southern Sierra at 69 percent, Water Resources reported. That's compared with 68 percent, 55 percent and 52 percent, respectively, compared to the first survey in January 2007.

Water Resources hydrologists use the readings to forecast the state's water supply in the coming year.

Although the readings show the season isn't off to a great start, Water Resources officials cautioned that it's still early, and pointed to rain, snow and wind that started arriving Thursday.

Forecasters called for the Central Valley to receive several inches of rain, while at least 5 feet of snow is expected in high Sierra elevations.

In Lake County, Thursday's rains gave area creeks a charge, with the US Geological Survey's stream gauges showing dramatic upsurges in water levels.

Arthur Hinojosa, chief of Water Resources' Hydrology Branch, said in a Thursday statement that Sierra snow levels are expected to begin at 6,000 feet and drop to below 4,000 feet through the weekend with another weaker system forecast across Northern California early next week.

“The pending storms should provide the state with a much needed helping of snow,” said Hinojosa. “We hope to get close to the January average precipitation for the Northern Sierra over the next week.”

Officials said the surveys are particularly significant this year because last year’s snowpack yielded only 30 percent of the normal water content.

Reservoirs are low, as well, with Lake Oroville holding only 35 percent of its 3.5 million acre foot capacity, 55 percent of average for this time of year, according to Water Resources.

Because less-than-normal water supply conditions exist, the initial State Water Project allocation for 2008 was placed at 25 percent of water contractors’ requested amounts, Water Resources reported.

Snowpack monitoring is coordinated by the Department of Water Resources as part of the multi-agency California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program.

Surveyors from more than 50 agencies and utilities visit hundreds of snow measurement courses in California’s mountains each month to gauge the amount of water in the snowpack.

The next survey will take place in early February, Water Resources reported.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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