California experiences 5th straight month below average precipitation

The California Department of Water Resources recently conducted the third manual snow survey of the season at Phillips Station west of Lake Tahoe. The manual survey recorded 56 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 21 inches, which is 86% of average for this location. The snow water equivalent measures the amount of water contained in the

DWR snow survey
A crew from the California Department of Water Resources takes snowpack samples near Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada. The department does this monthly during the snow season to help gauge runoff and reservoir fill — photo courtesy DWR

“As California closes out the fifth consecutive dry month of our water year, absent a series of strong storms in March or April we are going to end with a critically dry year on the heels of last year’s dry conditions,” said DWR director Karla Nemeth. “With back-to-back dry years, water efficiency and drought preparedness are more important than ever for communities, agriculture and the environment.”

Dry conditions require coordination among state, federal and local entities. State water leaders are preparing to address the current dry conditions adaptively, guided by lessons learned during previous droughts.

With below-average precipitation across the state, California’s reservoirs are showing the impacts of a second consecutive dry year. Lake Oroville is currently at 55% of average and Lake Shasta, California’s largest surface reservoir, is currently at 68% of average for this date.

Statewide snow survey measurements continue to reflect the overall dry conditions. Measurements from DWR’s electronic snow survey stations indicate that statewide the snowpack’s snow water equivalent is 15 inches, or 61% of the March 2 average, and 54% of the April 1 average. April 1 is typically when California’s snowpack is the deepest and has the highest snow water equivalent.

The current State Water Project allocation of 10% amounts to 422,848 acre-feet of water, distributed among the 29 long-term SWP contractors who serve more than 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland. Last year the initial allocation was also 10%, with a final allocation of 20% set in May 2020.

Precipitation in the form of rain – and snowfall at higher elevations – is critical because it refills reservoirs, packs away snow for spring runoff and helps stem the risk of wildfires.

The California Department of Water Resources contributed this article.


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