Snowpack is at lowest level since ‘88, but reservoirs and aquifers are full

From the Associated Press

State hydrologists typically strap on snowshoes for their monthly survey of snow depths near South Lake Tahoe. On Tuesday, they needed only tennis shoes.

The last Sierra snow survey of the season found that the average snow depth along the 400-mile-long range was just 29% of normal, the lowest since 1988. At Echo Summit, near Lake Tahoe, hydrologists found only bare earth.

The snowpack was 27% of normal for this time of year in the northern Sierra, 33% of normal in the central Sierra and 24% to the south, the Department of Water Resources said.


The Sierra snowpack is important because it acts as a massive frozen reservoir for the state, releasing water in spring and summer for cities and farmers.

Despite this year’s dry conditions, state water managers remain optimistic about water deliveries in the months ahead. A previous string of wet winters has left the state’s reservoirs and aquifers full.

“The reason that we don’t panic when there’s a 27% snowpack is because of the investment that happened in this state, you know, 50 and 75 years ago. And it’s our turn to invest,” said Lester Snow, director of the Department of Water Resources.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger used the dismal snowpack to promote his $4.5-billion proposal to build two dams, a week after his plan was derailed by Senate Democrats.

“As we experience climate change and the resulting lower annual snowpacks, it is critical that we increase the amount of runoff captured by building additional water storage facilities,” the governor said in a statement.

Jim Evans, a spokesman for Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), said Schwarzenegger’s dam proposal “is premature,” although more reservoirs may eventually fit into an overall water strategy being developed by Senate Democrats.