Late storms punch Sierra snowpack to near-normal

By Don Thompson, The Associated Press
Friday March 29, 2002

SACRAMENTO — The Sierra snowpack has rebounded to near-normal levels thanks to a series of late winter storms, a California Department of Water Resources snow survey found Thursday. 

Portions of the northern Sierra Nevada are above normal. But things dry out farther south. 

Overall, the survey is good news for farmers and other water users coming off a dry year. 

“We’ve just about got back what we lost during those dry periods in January and February,” said department spokesman Jeff Cohen. “It’s a fairly normal year, with some exceptions.” 

The snowpack was at 105 percent of an average year at Echo Summit near Lake Tahoe, where department officials physically checked the snow Thursday. Ninety-five automated remote sensors showed the snowpack at 100 percent of normal across the northern Sierra, 94 percent in the central Sierra and 82 percent in the southern Sierra. 

Overall, the snowpack was at 92 percent of an average year. The department expected that might be increased slightly by the time the manual survey is completed, Cohen said. 

The higher levels in the northern part of the state should help refill Folsom Lake, a part of the federal Central Valley Project, and help even more at Lake Oroville, a part of the State Water Project. 

“It’s looking much better than last year — probably twice as good as last year in terms of runoff” into Lake Oroville, Cohen said. 

The State Water Project last week raised its projected water deliveries from 45 percent of normal to 55 percent of normal. The below-normal levels reflect last year’s water deficit, Cohen said. 

Some watersheds like the Kern River are very dry in the southern Sierra, Cohen said. That part of the state has seen just a third of its usual precipitation this winter. 

Though Southern California faces droughtlike conditions, metropolitan water officials expect to make up the deficit with groundwater, Colorado River water and water reclamation without serious impact on consumers. 

The shortage is more severe in mountain communities that can’t import their water and are facing their fourth consecutive dry year. 

In addition, mountainsides usually coated with snow are already bone dry, prompting fire officials to begin adding staff and equipment in San Diego, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. 

The Sierra Nevada’s snowpack provides two-thirds of California’s water for cities, farms and recreation. In addition, snow-fed hydroelectric plants produce about a quarter of California’s power. 

The Pacific Northwest is also having a wetter winter than last year, however, easing fears of another regional hydroelectricity shortage. 


On the Net: 

The Department of Water Resources: http://www.water.ca.gov