By Scott Smith
The Sierra snowpack in drought-stricken California measured at 32 percent of normal Tuesday at a time of year when it’s supposed to be at its peak, the state’s Department of Water Resources announced.
Even the storms now dousing California are expected to spell little relief this coming summer for farmers and many communities already facing restrictions, said Mark Cowin, the department’s director.
“We can hope that conditions improve,” he said. “But time is running out, and conservation is the only tool we have against nature’s whim.”
State surveyors travelled up the High Sierra on Tuesday to take their monthly measurements of the snowpack. They went up with low expectations for what they would find despite falling snow and weather hitting Northern California.
Rain fell in San Francisco on Monday afternoon, bringing with it lightning that struck several planes and damaged at least one home in nearby Sausalito. More lightning and thunder were expected on Tuesday.
By Monday evening, snow also began blanketing the Sierra Nevada in a system that is expected to deliver up to a foot by early today. Two school districts in El Dorado canceled class on Tuesday, KCRA-TV reported. Forecasters for the National Weather Service said some places at high elevations may get two feet of fresh snow.
Yet those closely monitoring California’s drought aren’t impressed and hold little hope that the snowpack surveyors will report back any good news.
“Expect it to be really, really abnormally low,” said Peter Gleick, president of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute. He spoke in a conference call Monday with reporters in anticipation of the state releasing its official snowpack figures.
California is in its third consecutive dry year, and in January Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency. Before the recent storms, California’s snow-water content was estimated to be at 25 percent of normal.
The California Department of Water Resources measures the snowpack monthly during the wet season. The Sierra Nevada snowpack is important because it stores water that melts in the spring as runoff. Communities and farmers depend on it during California’s hot, dry summers.
The April 1 survey is critical because it marks the peak of the snowpack. There’s just one month remaining of the rainy season.
Some farmers in the parched Central Valley have been told they will receive no irrigation water from California’s two vast systems of reservoirs and canals this summer, and many have left fields unplanted. Updated estimates on irrigation water from state and federal officials for farmers won’t be ready for days or weeks.
Nancy Vogel, a spokeswoman for California’s Department of Water Resources, said the state water levels remain in flux, given the current wet weather. Another weaker system is forecast to hit California late Thursday and into Friday.
“It’ll take some time to quantify the results of the storms,” she said. “Hopefully, it’ll still be snowing.”