Drought Retains Grip on California as Snow Surveyors Find Sparse Snowpack

January 30, 2014 10:41 AM

Dry winter makes it very unlikely California’s record drought will be broken this year.

Source: California Department of Water Resources

SACRAMENTO -- Freshly fallen snow from late-arriving storms brightened the scenery but did not end California’s drought. The winter’s second snow survey today found far too little water in the still scant snowpack.

"This winter remains dry, making it very unlikely our record drought will be broken this year," said DWR Director Mark Cowin. "Now more than ever, we all need to save every drop we can in our homes and places of work."

Manual and electronic readings today record the snowpack’s statewide water content at only 12 percent of average for this time of year. That is a mere 7 percent of the average April 1 measurement when the snowpack normally is at its peak before melting into streams and reservoirs to provide about a third of the water used by California’s cities and farms.

Prior to today, the lowest snowpack water content readings for this time of year were 21 percent of average for the date in 1991 and 1963, 22 percent in 1976, 25 percent in 1977 and 35 percent in 2012, the first year of the drought now pushing its way into a third consecutive year. These statewide records go back to 1960.

Today’s electronic readings indicate that water content in the northern mountains is 6 percent of normal for the date and 4 percent of the April 1 average. Electronic readings in the central Sierra show 15 percent of normal for the date and 9 percent of the April 1 average. The numbers for the southern Sierra are 14 percent of average for the date and 8 percent of the April 1 average.

DWR and cooperating agencies conduct manual surveys on or about the first of the month from January to May. The manual measurements supplement and check the accuracy of real-time electronic readings.

Not only is water content in the mountain snowpack – often referred to California’s largest reservoir – low, but so are the state’s major water supply reservoirs.

The reservoir storage from winter 2012 storms that got most of California through last year’s (calendar year 2013) record dry weather is depleted, with each day reducing the odds rain and spring snowpack runoff will replenish supplies before summer.

Lake Oroville in Butte County, the State Water Project’s (SWP) principal reservoir, is only at ¬¬36 percent of its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity (54 percent of its historical average for the date). Shasta Lake north of Redding, California’s and the federal Central Valley Project’s (CVP) largest reservoir, is at ¬¬¬36 percent of its 4.5 million acre-foot capacity and 53 percent of its historical average for this time of year. San Luis Reservoir, a critical south-of-Delta pool for both the SWP and CVP, is at a mere 31 percent of its 2 million acre-foot capacity (39 percent of normal for the date).

Not only was 2013 California’s driest calendar year on records going back to 1895, but this month may go into the records as the driest ever January.

State Climatologist Michael Anderson noted that statewide, only 1.53 inches of rain was recorded from October through December, also the lowest aggregate total in records going back to 1895. The aggregate average for the period is 7.87 inches. California’s average aggregate rainfall for the entire Water Year (October 1-September 30) is 22.90 inches, meaning the state needs more than 21 inches added to the October-December total just to get back to normal.

"We are in record dry territory and this needs to be stressed," said Anderson.

With California facing its driest year on record, Governor Brown declared a drought State of Emergency earlier this month and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages. 

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