Despite what might feel like an incessant onslaught of storms these past few months, the word from the Department of Water Resources’s fourth snow survey of the season is… average. Manual and electronic survey readings indicate that statewide, the Sierra snowpack water content is 106% of normal for this date. In the northern Sierra it’s higher, at 126% of normal, while the central and southern Sierra are at 92% and 105%, respectively.
The news was good enough for the DWR to increase its State Water Project allocation from 15% to 20%, but agency director Mark Cowin told reporters on a call Thursday that three years of drought and regulatory restrictions on Delta pumping to protect fish species will keep the allocations far below normal. He said the final allocation, which is announced in May, will likely be between 30% and 40%, depending on April’s precipitation. (Last year’s final allotment was 40%.)
“We’ve had a hit and miss nature to storms this winter, and that has left the State Water Project in not as good a position as we would like to be and perhaps worse than you would expect based upon those fairly good numbers regarding snowpack and precipitation,” said Cowin. “Remember that we started this winter with very poor carry over storage in most of our key reservoirs.”
While many reservoirs across the state, such as Lake Shasta, are at above average capacity for this time of year, others still have a ways to go. The State Water Project’s principal reservoir, Lake Oroville, is currently at 47 percent capacity, which is just 60 percent of normal. Cowin said that the difference between the two lies with where the snow fell this year.
“Clearly we’re going to have water shortages this year,” said Cowin. “We’re all going to have to conserve water. Even if we get to 30 or 40% allocation, those are still low numbers. The ethic of using water efficiently in California has got to be the normal course of business and not dependent on the weather forecast.”
Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issued an updated allocation for its Central Valley Project customers that ranged from 25% to 75%.
Check recent levels of California’s major reservoirs on the map, below:
View KQED: California Reservoir Watch in a larger map