More Than 1/4 of California in “Exceptional Drought;” Snowpack at 24% of Average

California's much-needed recent bout of wet weather and snow are welcome, but did little to make a dent in the state's persistent drought conditions.

Surveyors from the California's Department of Water Resources recorded the snowpack’s statewide water content 24 percent of average for the date, far below normal, but "more than expected."

Last month's survey recorded a 12 percent historic average.

Electronic readings showed that water content in the northern mountains is 15 percent of normal for this date; 32 percent of normal for the central Sierra; and 24 percent for the southern Sierra. The third snowpack survey of the season was conducted at Phillips Station at Highway 50 and Sierra at Tahoe Road, about 90 miles east of Sacramento.

“We welcome the late storms but they are not enough to end the drought,” DWR Director Mark Cowin said in a statment.  “We can’t control the weather but we can control the amount of water we use.  This drought is a wake-up call that we all have to take water conservation seriously and make it a way of life.”

Also on Thursday, a newly released map showed more serious news for the state of California. The United States Drought Monitor showed that more than a quarter of the state - 26.21 percent - falls into the "exceptional drought category" - the most severe of the categories. Last week, just 14 percent of the state fell into that category.  Much of the remainder of the state - 73 percent - is in the "extreme drought category."

This kind of news has regular folks worried, too.

"I"m doing a lot of praying... for some type of moisture," Kingvale resident Frank King said Thursday morning as snow on the community on the border of Placer and Nevada counties. "Can't live without it."

Surveyors manually measure snowpack water content on or about the first of the month from January through May to check the accuracy of real-time electronic readings.  The snowpack – often called California’s largest reservoir – normally provides about a third of the water used by cities and farms as it melts into streams and reservoirs in spring and early summer.

Here is a list of California’s major reservoirs, which the water agency said are dangerously low.  

  • Lake Oroville in Butte County, the State Water Project’s principal reservoir, is at only 39 percent of its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity (57 percent of its historical average for the date).
  • Shasta Lake north of Redding, California’s and the federal Central Valley Project’s largest reservoir, is at 38 percent of its 4.5 million acre-foot capacity capacity (53 percent of its historical average). 
  • San Luis Reservoir, a critical south-of-Delta reservoir is at a mere 33 percent of its 2 million acre-foot capacity (40 percent of average for this time of year).

 Electronic Snowpack Readings - Electronic Reservoir Readings - Statewide Water Conditions

 NBC Bay Area's Bob Redell contributed to this report.

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