California drought: Snowpack survey bad news for dependent farmers and cities

79078 full
79078 full

A snowpack survey from the Department of Water Resources showed Tuesday that the Sierra snowpack is far below normal as the spring melt approaches, confirming the current drought diagnosis.

RELATED: California drought: Benchmark April snowpack survey due Tuesday

Tuesday’s snowpack measurement, which is supposed to be the peak of the season, measured at 32 percent of average water content for the date. The annual April 1 survey is the most comprehensive of the season, with measurements taken at hundreds of locations.

The survey results, coupled with winter’s rain shortage, mean bad news for farms and cities that normally depend on the snowpack – often called California’s largest reservoir – for a third of their water as the snow melts into streams and reservoirs. Local reservoirs are not making up the difference since they are at less than half of capacity.

“We’re already seeing farmland fallowed and cities scrambling for water supplies,” said DWR Director Mark Cowin in a statement. “We can hope that conditions improve, but time is running out and conservation is the only tool we have against nature’s whim.”

February and March storms could not break the drought, which has lasted for three years as reservoirs, rainfall totals and the snowpack remain critically low.

RELATED: 'Mega-drought': Could California's drought last years? A century?

Electronic readings indicate that snowpack water content in the state’s northern mountains is 23 percent of normal. The electronic readings for the central and southern Sierra are 38 and 31 percent of normal, respectively.

Snow surveyors from DWR and cooperating agencies manually measure snowpack water content on or about the first of the month from January through May to supplement and check the accuracy of real-time electronic readings.  This year’s final manual survey is scheduled for May 1.

Drought.Ca.Gov has updates on how the state is dealing with the drought. 

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