Sierra snowpack near normal

March 26, 2008 10:28:27 PM PDT
A winter snow survey conducted today indicates that Sierra snowpack water content is near normal levels for this time of year, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

Snow surveys are conducted five times each year, once per month beginning in January. Manual surveys taken Wednesday at Phillips Station in the Sierra found snowpack water content at about 98 percent of normal for this time of year, the department reported. Water content in the snowpack at Tamarack Flat in the Sierra was at 112 percent of normal, according to Wednesday's measurements.

The figures were about double those taken this time last year, the department reported.

The water content measured today is considered the most important reading of the year in determining how much water will be held in the snowpack, the state's largest reservoir, because the snowpack is at its peak this time of year, Ted Thomas of the Department of Water Resources said.

Water content in the snowpack is critical to the state's water supply, as the water held in the snow runs off in the spring and summer into streams and reservoirs where it is stored for use, Thomas said.

Although today's reading suggests the snowpack is near normal, state water delivery will remain low because of low reservoirs and federal restrictions on pumping out of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta, according to Thomas.

A federal judge in a December 2007 court order said that state and federal water projects would have to restrict pumping from the Delta as necessary to protect Delta smelt populations, Thomas said.

Pumping schedules are considered every seven days to reevaluate the location of the Delta smelt, Thomas said. The restrictions to water delivery are not permanent, as the smelt typically move out of reach of the effects of water pumps around June, Thomas said.

Normal pumping will resume when the smelt are out of danger, Thomas said, but already officials have been unable to pump an estimated .5 million-acre feet of water due to the restrictions.

The loss has been partially offset by pumping water out of the San Luis Reservoir, but the loss will not be made up in full, Thomas said.

In addition to the pumping restrictions, water reservoir storage is at about 85 percent of average levels, according to Thomas. Storage levels at the Oroville reservoir, heavily depended on by the state, have measured at about 60 percent of normal levels.

A dry season last year depleted reservoirs that had been filled with water from the previous year, Thomas said.