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California snowpack survey canceled: 'Drought is severe'

California water officials cancel snowpack measurement because there's not enough snow

State water officials had planned to make the trek back to the Sierra Nevada to conduct their snowpack measurement Friday.

But Thursday they announced they wouldn’t bother. For the second consecutive month, there won’t be any snow to measure.

“This is just another piece of information in a series of increasingly dismal findings,” said Department of Water Resources spokesman Doug Carlson. “It nails down that the drought is severe – maybe as severe as any in our history.”

The latest disappointing news comes a month after Gov. Jerry Brown stood on a field at Phillips Station – where this week’s manual measurement was to occur – and announced California’s first mandatory statewide water use cuts to combat the ongoing drought. It was the only April 1 survey since 1941 without any snow.

Officials say conditions have gotten even worse since then.  

Though the manual measurement east of Sacramento often provides a backdrop for media coverage, the state uses electronic sensors up and down the Sierra to measure the water content of the snow. Snowpack accounts for about 30% of the state's water supply when it melts in the late spring and summer and replenishes reservoirs.

On April 1, statewide measurements showed that the snowpack’s water content was just 5% normal for that date, the lowest in records going back to 1950. Thursday’s readings indicate the snowpack’s water content is half an inch or about 3% of normal for this time period.

“We can’t count on the Sierra snowpack to replenish our water supplies,” California Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said in a prepared statement. “Major reservoirs are dropping at a time when they typically would be filling with melted snow.  We need careful, sparing use of water across the state, because we don’t know when this drought will end.”

The last time snow was found at Phillips Station during the May 1 measurement was in 2011, officials said.

Follow @ByMattStevens for coverage of the California drought, the Westside and breaking news.

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