Despite recent snow storms, California snowpack remains below average

DWR february snowpack survey
The California Department of Water Resources conducts the February 2021 manual snow survey at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada — photo courtesy CDWR

The California Department of Water Resources Feb. 3 conducted the second manual snow survey of the season at Phillips Station about 22 miles southwest of South Lake Tahoe, California.

The manual survey recorded 63 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent  of 17 inches, which is 93% of average for this location. The SWE measures the amount of water contained in the snowpack and is a key component of DWR’s water supply forecast.

“The recent blast of winter weather was a welcome sight, but it was not enough to offset this winter’s dry start,” said DWR director Karla Nemeth. “While there is still a chance we will see additional storms in the coming weeks, the Department and other state agencies are preparing for the potential for a second consecutive year of dry conditions.”

Statewide snow survey measurements reflect those dry conditions. Measurements from DWR’s electronic snow survey stations indicate that statewide the snowpack’s SWE is 12.5 inches, or 70%of the Feb. 3 average, and 45 % of the April 1 average. April 1 is typically when California’s snowpack is the deepest and has the highest snow water equivalent.

Fall 2020 was extremely dry, especially in the Sierra Nevada, and follows last year’s below-average snow and precipitation.

Many water districts in California’s rice-production region north of Sacramento rely on runoff from snowpack to provide irrigation supplies.

Depending on the final snowpack and water allocated to environmental needs, California rice farmers could potentially face allocation cutbacks this year.

DWR, which operates the State Water Project, announced an initial allocation in December 2020 of just 10%. The Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the Central Valley Project, typically announces its initial allocations in mid- to late February.

The Department of Water Resources contributed information to this article.


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