Sierra snowpack found to be above average

April 30, 2010 9:20:17 PM PDT
The Sierra Nevada snowpack's water content is well above average but the amount of water that will be delivered to farms and 25 million state residents will be 30 percent of what is requested, a state Department of Water Resources spokesman said today.

The department took its fifth and final snow survey of the season today, and determined that water content in the snowpack is 143 percent of normal.

However, the State Water Project, which provides water to millions of Californians, including residents in the North Bay, East Bay and South Bay, will only be able to deliver a portion of the water amount requested from 29 agencies throughout the state.

Those agencies include the Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, the Solano County Water Agency, the Alameda County Water District, Zone 7 Water Agency, which serves the Livermore area, and the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

Department spokesman Don Strickland said despite the high water content in the snow packs, the state agency is only able to deliver 30 percent of the requested water because the storage supply in Lake Oroville is still below average, and there are regulatory restrictions to protect fish species in the Delta.

However, Strickland said the department might decide to increase that percentage in the coming weeks after analyzing the data from today's survey.

The surveys are done around the first of each month from January to May, and Strickland said the content in today's survey was higher than last month's, which is usually the peak month for snowpack readings.

"We're fortunate this year that we got a lot of April storms, and that pushed the depth and the water content of the snowpack quite a bit over a month ago," he said.

A lot of the storms missed Lake Oroville, which is the primary reservoir for the State Water Project. The lake is still only 59 percent full, or 71 percent of normal.

"We had three dry winters in a row before this one, so we didn't have the snowpack or rainfall to refill it," Strickland said. "But the snowpack is looking great right now, so hopefully there'll be enough snowmelt to get it back to normal by the summer."

Pumping restrictions to protect fish, including Delta smelt, salmon and longfin smelt, will also continue to impact how much water can be delivered by the project.

In 2009, the State Water Project delivered 40 percent of the requests and the average over 10 years is 68 percent of the amount requested by farms and water contractors.


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