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Dry Start to California’s Water Year

A dry start to California’s water year is reflected in the season’s first snow survey of the Sierra Nevada snowpack. The statewide snowpack is 52% of average for Dec. 30. On average, the Sierra snowpack supplies about 30% of California’s water needs.

The California Department of Water Resources manual survey at Phillips Station recorded 30.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 10.5 inches, which is 93% of the January 1 average at that location, according to DWR officials. The snow water equivalent,or SWE, measures the amount of water contained in the snowpack and is a key component of DWR’s water supply forecast.

While the Phillips Station measurement was positive, DWR’s electronic readings from 130 stations placed throughout California show the statewide snowpack’s SWE is 5 inches, or 52% of the December 30 average.

“The snow survey results reflect California’s dry start to the water year and provide an important reminder that our state’s variable weather conditions are made more extreme by climate change,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “We still have several months left to bring us up to average, but we should prepare now for extended dry conditions. The Department, along with other state agencies and local water districts, is prepared to support communities should conditions remain dry.”

Water supply diversity meets regional demand

“The first snowpack survey of the water year points to California’s climate variability, which is why a diverse water portfolio is needed to provide a reliable supply,” said Goldy Herbon, San Diego County Water Authority senior water resources specialist. “The Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have successfully diversified water sources, and continue to expand those sources, to ensure our supply meets the needs of the region’s 3.3 million people and its $245 billion economy.”

The supply sources include water from the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, where ten workers volunteered to live on-site in 2020 to keep the water flowing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sierra Nevada Snowpack-Snow Water Content

Climate change brings less snow

When the Sierra Nevada snowpack melts, it feeds into rivers and is stored in reservoirs across California. Reservoirs are tapped as needed during the dry months. However, state officials again said that climate change is affecting California’s snowpack, as more precipitation falls as rain and less as snow. And they urged Californians to make water conservation a “way of life.”

“Today’s survey brought a first glimpse of how the state’s snowpack is shaping up, but there is a lot of winter still ahead,” said Sean de Guzman, chief of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section. “While the dry conditions during late summer and fall have led to a below average snowpack, it is still encouraging to have the amount of snow we already have with two of the three typically wettest months still to come.”

DWR conducts five snow surveys at Phillips Station each winter near the first of each month, January through April and, if necessary, May. Guzman said the next survey is scheduled for February 2.

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Sean De Guzman (R), chief of the California Department of Water Resources Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section, and Jeremy Hill, DWR water resources engineer, conduct the first snow survey of the 2021 season at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada. Photo: Kelly M. Grow/DWR

Dismal California Snowpack is Bad Sign for Water Supplies

A month into California’s peak storm season, the lack of wet weather is beginning to weigh on the state’s water supply.

The snowpack in the Sierra and southern Cascades, which provides as much as a third of the water used by California cities and farms, is about 55% of average for this time of year. It hasn’t been this low at this time since 2017, when the state was emerging from a five-year drought.

Growers See Initial Allocation of 10% for 2021 Water Year

While deciding the final allocation for growers who gather their water from the Friant-Kern Canal is months away, things early on are not looking good. The California Department of Water Resources announced on Dec. 1 an initial state water project allocation of 10% of requested supply for the 2021 water year. Initial allocations are based on conservative assumptions regarding hydrology and factors such as reservoir storage.

Rain, Snow in California Forecast — Though Climate Experts Warn of Deepening Drought

California is expecting its first rain of the season this weekend, a major shift in weather that’s likely to bring scattered showers and chilly breezes to the Bay Area, and freezing temperatures and snow to the Sierra.

Is Climate Change Worsening California Fires, or is it Poor Forest Management? Both, Experts Say

Long before climate change severely parched California, priming it to burn at a record scale, federal foresters made an inventory of trees in the southern Sierra Nevada. The year was 1911, and the goal of the fledgling U.S. Forest Service was to document the amount of timber in the area. More than a century later, however, the historical data set proved invaluable to researchers with a far different purpose: assessing how much the forest, and the inherent threat of fires within it, had evolved.

‘Ground Zero’ For Dead Trees. How California Mega-Drought Turned Creek Fire Into Inferno

California’s mega-drought officially ended three years ago but may have turned the Creek Fire into a monster. By killing millions of trees in the Sierra National Forest, the historic drought that ended in 2017 left an incendiary supply of dry fuel that appears to have intensified the fire that’s ravaged more than 140,000 acres in the southern Sierra Nevada, wildfire scientists and forestry experts said Tuesday.

To Manage Wildfire, California Looks to What Tribes Have Known All Along

On a cool February morning, around 60 people gathered in the Sierra Nevada foothills to take part in a ceremony that, for many decades, was banned.

Men and women from Native American tribes in Northern California stood in a circle, alongside university students and locals from around the town of Mariposa. Several wore bright yellow shirts made of flame-resistant fabric. For the next two days, the group would be carefully lighting fires in the surrounding hills.

Opinion: Improving Forest Health Would Create Jobs, Improve Economies in Rural California

The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting urban and rural communities across California. Congress is exploring economic recovery legislation that includes investments in workforce development and infrastructure. And in Sacramento, there have been discussions about focusing future climate and natural resource bonds on economic recovery.

As federal and state decision-makers evaluate the options, they should consider putting Californians to work on improving the health of the state’s headwater forests. This approach would alleviate economic hardships while reducing wildfire risk and generating a suite of other benefits for forest-based communities and the state.

Snow-Water Equivalent Still Down Despite Recent Storms

Though the last couple of weekends have seen wet weather, it hasn’t been enough to keep up with the yearly average in time for summer in California. The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which is tested regularly by employees of the California Department of Water Resources, has yielded some grim results so far in 2020 in terms of snow-water equivalent.

One Planet: How Climate Change is Fueling Megadroughts in the Western US

On this edition of Your Call’s One Planet Series, we’re discussing a new study from Columbia University about an emerging climate-driven megadrought in the Western US.