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Low snowpack may mean a third dry year for California

The all-important Sierra Nevada snowpack remains well below normal, signaling that California may be headed for a third consecutive dry year.

When state workers took the second snow measurement of the winter Thursday, they found that statewide, the snow’s water content was 61% of the average, over many years, for this point in the season. The figure was even lower in the northern Sierra, which feeds the state’s biggest reservoirs.

There are still two months left for winter precipitation to catch up. But state officials say it is increasingly unlikely California will get enough to break the drought that is draining reservoirs and prompting increasingly urgent calls for conservation.

Senior state meteorologist Elissa Lynn said La Nina conditions, which led to an exceptionally dry spring last year, may be redeveloping.

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“There’s not a lot of indications the rest of the year will be normal, and even if it were, we’d still wind up below average for the northern Sierra,” she said.

Water storage in California’s major reservoirs is about 60% of average for this date, while statewide precipitation is 70% of the norm.

The picture is brightest in the southern Sierra -- an important source of water for Los Angeles -- where precipitation is almost normal. But even there, snowpack -- measured as the snow’s water content -- is 68% of average.

Lynn said that overall, hydrological conditions are about the same in the state as they were during the last major drought, from 1987 to 1992.

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Court-ordered, environmental restrictions on pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta are adding to water supply worries.

“It’s imperative for Californians to conserve water immediately at home and in their businesses,” state water resources director Lester Snow said in a statement.

Southern California water managers have warned there is an increasing chance that rationing will be imposed this summer.

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bettina.boxall@latimes.com


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