It’s still “cause for concern.” That’s how California’s water chief summed up the water outlook for this summer, based on the latest survey. The Sierra snowpack stands at 81% of normal for this date, according to today’s measurements by the state Department of Water Resources.
Chopping up the Sierra Nevada into segments, Northern California fared a little better at 87%. The situation deteriorates as you move southward, with Southern Sierra stations clocking in at 77% of normal.
In most years, the April survey marks the peak of the season’s snow water content.
Ultimately what matters is runoff, or the total amount of water that actually comes off the mountains with the spring melt. And snowpack isn’t necessarily a good predictor of that, as we heard in David Gorn’s story on The California Report and in his blog notes from today.
Just yesterday the Governor’s Climate Action Team released its 2009 assessment of likely climate change effects in California. One predicted outcome is that ripple effects from water shortages could run up a tab of $3 billion per year. And that’s the rosy scenario, based on being able to quickly move 5 million acre-feet of water to where it’s needed. Eileen Tutt of Cal-EPA cautions that the actual capacity of the current system to quickly redistribute water is closer to 1 million acre-feet. An acre-foot is about the amount of water that a typical household uses in one year.