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Monday, June 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California snowpack virtually nonexistent in last survey of water year

California's record lack of precipitation so far in 2022 means residents will face mandatory water restrictions and agricultural operations throughout the Golden State will suffer. 

(CN) — Most Californians understand the water supply problem, but the California Department of Water Resources' final snow survey of the year conducted Friday underscored the true dire nature of the situation. 

“You need no more evidence than standing on this very dry landscape to understand some of the challenges facing California,” said Karla Nemeth, director of the state’s water department. 

April 1 is the last snow survey because it is typically when the snowpack that builds in the Sierra Nevada mountains throughout the winter is at it peak. On Friday, Nemeth and her team walked through what was essentially dry ground at a field near Echo Summit, just west of Lake Tahoe. 

They found a paltry patch of snow and measured it to discover the snowpack measured in at 2.5 inches, with 1 inch of snow water equivalent. The reading meant the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides 30% of California’s water supply, is at 4% of its historical average. 

“We are going to have below-average reservoir storage going into the summer,” said Sean de Guzman, the water department’s snow survey manager. 

While the news at the Phillips Station was bad, around the state the snowpack is at 38% of the historical average — a little better, but still poor. 

“There will likely be mandatory water restrictions at the local level,” said Nemeth in a preview of coming rules surrounding individual water use throughout the Golden State. 

Nemeth said cutbacks to agriculture will come as water deliveries are cut back and some farmers will fallow their fields until the water supply picture improves. 

“There will be more significant land fallowing than we did last year,” Nemeth said. 

Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the California National Resources Agency, said the record dry start to 2022 is a symptom of climate change wreaking havoc in the Golden State. 

“Climate change is here and it has been here in California and across the American West,” he said. 

The secretary noted that the Colorado River Basin is also experiencing its worst drought in recorded history as photos of a drying Lake Meade attest. 

“It’s having some of its most alarming water conditions in recorded history,” he said. 

Both Nemeth and Crowfoot said that this third consecutive dry winter is likely a continuation of a drought that began in 2011. While the drought was thought to be over due to a big water year in 2017, many scientists believe it is the wet year that was an aberration in an otherwise sustained dry period. 

“This is very evocative of 2015,” Nemeth said. 

While many scientists agree that climate change is a major culprit in diminishing water supply, some question the state’s priority in spending, saying the state should be investing more money in reservoir construction or alternative technologies like water recycling and desalination plants. 

Nemeth said the state must plan to have another dry year in 2023, at which point the state’s water storage system may be pushed toward a breaking point. 

Lake Shasta, the largest surface water storage reservoir in the state, currently stands at 38% full, which is about half of the historical average. Around the state, the picture is slightly improved, with all reservoirs standing at about 70% of the historical average. But this number means reservoirs throughout the state are at 48% of their total capacity. 

“It’s about right where we were on April 1, 2015,” de Guzman said. 

About 93% of the state is in extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor

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Categories / Environment, Regional

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