Snowpack in drought-stricken California hits 5-year high

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Recent El Niño storms have boosted the Sierra Nevada snowpack to 115 percent of normal — more than the drought-stricken state has seen in five years, officials said Tuesday.

The electronic reading by the state Department of Water Resources was the highest since it reached 129 percent in 2011.

The Sierra snowpack contributes nearly one-third of California's water when it melts in the spring.

However, officials say the snowpack would have to be at 150 percent of normal by April 1 to ease the four-year drought.

State water managers have said reservoirs remain far below average levels for this time of year, despite the recent wet winter.

It said precipitation stands at 116 percent of normal in Northern California, where vast amounts of water are collected in reservoirs and sent through canals to farms and communities as far south as Southern California.

Key reservoirs are beginning to rise from the early winter storms but remain low. Lake Oroville in Butte County, the State Water Project's largest reservoir, is at 60 percent of its historical average for this time of year.

Officials on Tuesday slightly increased the amount the state intends to provide to cities and farms from 10 percent to 15 percent of their contracted supply. The figure still falls short of last year's 20 percent allocation.

"Our modest increase underscores the fact that we still have a critical water shortage after four-plus years of drought that we don't know when will end," said Mark Cowin, water agency director.

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