The water contained in California’s mountain snow is now lower than the historical average after a January without significant rain or snow.
Snow totals updated Tuesday by the state Department of Water Resources show the amount of water in the Sierra Nevada mountain’s snowpack is at 92% of what’s normal for this date.
That’s a dramatic reversal from December, when heavy rain and snow left the state with 160% of its average snow water content.
State officials will conduct their regular snow survey later Tuesday, where they will physically measure snow totals near Lake Tahoe. The state measures snow totals electronically and manually at hundreds of locations.
The nation’s most populous state needs a wet winter to ease California’s drought and this year’s dry conditions are less dire so far than they were a year ago. Most of California is now in what’s considered severe drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, with only a small part of the state classified as being in the more serious extreme drought.
Winter snow is a crucial part of California’s water supply and December through March are typically the wettest months of the year. Snow that melts in the mountains and runs down into California’s lower elevations makes up about a third of the state’s water supply.
Meanwhile, officials at the State Water Resources Control Board announced Tuesday that Californians met Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call for a voluntary 15% reduction in water use for the first time in December, thanks to the heavy precipitation. Overall people used 16.2% less water compared to the December before. Still, cumulative savings since Newsom made his request in July sit at just 7.4%, officials said.
E. Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the water board, called the December conservation numbers “incredibly impressive” and said they demonstrate that people are being more mindful of their water use during wet times. The state board recently adopted mandatory water restrictions including a ban on watering lawns within 48 hours of a rain storm, but that rule wasn’t yet in effect in December.
But he stressed that continued conservation is necessary as dry conditions have returned.
“We’re looking to hopefully get a few more storms this water year, but the storm door may be closed,” he said.