While the rain the Bay Area has received over the last few weeks is welcome, our water future is controlled by the snow-capped mountains in the Sierra.
The April 1 snowpack survey for the central Sierra, which feeds Hetch Hetchy, came in at 38 percent of normal.
When it comes to getting us out of drought, snowpack is more important than rainfall.
The 2014 Sierra ski season started with uninviting conditions due meager snow accumulation in December and January. Even with several moisture-rich late season storms, overall snowpack for the central Sierra is still way below average.
"We are concerned about the drought,” said Andy Wirth, President and CEO of the Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley ski resorts. “We live here in the mountains. We're concerned about the fire danger in the summer. We are as pragmatic and real about this as anybody… Take a look at the mountain right now, there's a drought going on right, but we're still able to ski. “
Surprisingly, due to major technological strides in snow-making, coupled with cold overnight temperatures, Tahoe ski resorts have been able to steadily make and preserve snow, keeping large crowds content and most ski runs open.
"We've provided skiing from November all the way through, and we have a whole month of skiing left at the mountain,” said Rachael Woods, Senior Manager of Communications at Northstar California Resort at Lake Tahoe.
But, aside from the ski resorts, you might be surprised to learn that snowpack is absolutely critical to the Bay Area and the entire state of California’s water supply.
- Special Coverage: Bay Area Drought Watch
Sierra Mountain snow supplies roughly one-third of the total water supply for the entire state of California. Melting snow runs down the mountainside during late spring and summer, when we don’t typically see much rain, replenishing large reservoirs like Hetch Hetchy, the primary water source of water for San Francisco and four other Bay Area counties.
“Snowpack is our frozen reservoir up there in the Sierra and the Cascade mountain ranges,” said Janine Jones, drought manager with the California Department of Water Resources.
So, although rainfall is important when it comes to getting us out of the drought, it’s actually the mountains that hold the key to our long-term water future.