What a Difference a Snow Storm Makes

Tuesday, Mar 3, 2009  |  Updated 7:42 AM PDT
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What a Difference a Snow Storm Makes

Ana Garcia

The Sierras, scene from a commuter plane en route to Big Bear.

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The state Department of Water Resources today announced its March  reading of the snow water content is 80 percent normal for this date.

Surveys taken today at four locations near Lake Tahoe were  combined with electronic readings. The water content of the snow in the  Northern Sierra is 84 percent of normal, 77 percent of normal in the Central  Sierra and 83 percent in the Southern Sierra, the Department of Water  Resources said.

Last year at this time, the snowpack was 114 percent of normal but  the driest spring on record followed resulting in a second consecutive dry  water year.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a drought state of  emergency Thursday. The Governor called on the Department of Water Resources  and other state agencies to provide assistance to people and communities  impacted by the drought.

Bay Area water agencies are preparing to enact mandatory water  conservation and rationing. The Department of Water Resources said storage in  the state's major reservoirs is low.

Lake Oroville, the principal storage reservoir for the State Water  Project, is at 39 percent capacity, and 55 percent of average storage for  this time of year. The lake provides water to 25 million residents and  750,000 acres of irrigated farmland.

Storage at Lake Shasta, the largest reservoir in California, is at  44 percent of capacity and 60 percent of average for this time of year,  Department of Water Resources spokesman Ted Thomas said.

Thomas said chances are slim the reservoirs will reach 100 percent  of normal capacity before the rainy season ends.

"Precipitation would have to be 120-130 percent of normal because  there's plenty of room in the reservoirs," Thomas said.

"Although recent storms have added to the snowpack, California  remains in a serious drought," DWR Director Lester Snow said.

"This year's precipitation levels are still below average. On the  heels of two critically dry years, it is unlikely we will make up the deficit  and be able to refill our reservoirs before winter's end. It is very  important that Californians continue to save water at home and in their  businesses," Snow said.

The Department of Water Resources' early estimate is that it will  only be able to deliver 15 percent of requested State Water Project water  this year to the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley, Central Coast and Southern  California because of dry conditions and regulatory agency restrictions on  Delta water exports Limited water will be delivered to farms and urban areas,  the DWR said.

Determining the snow water content also determines the coming  year's water supply. The measurements help hydrologists prepare water supply  forecasts for hydroelectric power companies and the recreation industry, the  DWR said.

The snow water content will be measured again in April and May.
 

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