Snow Survey Says: It Could Have Been Worse

Thanks to last year’s wet winter, California’s reservoirs are still in good shape

In January of this year, snow was still sparse at high elevations in the Sierra Nevada.

Researchers from the Department of Water Resources conducted their April manual snow survey today. It’s the most important snow survey of the season, because it’s supposed to capture the Sierra snowpack at its peak. The DWR found that statewide, snow water content is 55% of average for this time of year.

Still, it could have been worse. The previous manual snow survey, which took place on February 28, measured snow water content at only 30% of normal for that date. So the rain in March did help.

“This was certainly a moderately good March at least,” Jeanine Jones, the Interstate Water Resources Manager at the DWR told me. “But the downside is that we are now getting outside of our peak precipitation window. On average about 75% of statewide precipitation comes between November and March.”

In November, the DWR estimated it would be able to deliver 60% of the water the State Water Project requested. But once the dry winter set in, the DWR brought the allocation down to 50%. A press release (PDF) from the DWR says a 50% allocation is “not severely low.”

“So actually what this wet March really did was save the larger water projects from having to lower their allocations even further,” Jones said.

And, thanks to last year’s very wet winter, the state’s reservoirs are in good shape. But Jones warns they’re not in such good shape that the state will be able to fend off water-supply problems if next winter is anything like this one.

“So really the message for people now is to think about planning for what if 2013 is dry.”

There’s one more manual snow survey, at the beginning of May. Following that one, the DWR will release its final runoff forecasts for the year.