Snow below average again

·2 min read

Mar. 10—While predicting how much precipitation California can expect to receive for the remainder of the water year can be challenging, representatives from the Department of Water Resources say it's safe to say the year will end dry, absent a series of significant storms.

Sean de Guzman, chief of DWR's snow surveys and water supply forecasting section, said the state's long-term forecast doesn't predict anything big enough to get the state back to a normal water year.

"Californians made great progress in recent years embracing wise water use as a daily habit, but our state's water future remains uncertain due to the variability in our precipitation as well as our changing climate," de Guzman said. "It's more critical than ever that Californians adopt sustainability, embrace new approaches and emerging technologies, and also work together to save our water for a secure future."

DWR conducted its third manual snow survey of the season at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada March 2. The survey recorded 56 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 21 inches, which equates to 86 percent of the location's average. The measurement was 83 percent of the location's April 1 average, which is typically when the state's snowpack is at its peak.

Statewide, DWR's snow sensor network recorded California's snowpack at 61 percent of its average for the date.

"As California closes out the fifth consecutive dry month of our water year, absent a series of strong storms in March or April we are going to end with a critically dry year on the heels of last year's dry conditions," said DWR Director Karla Nemeth in a press release. "With back-to-back dry years, water efficiency and drought preparedness are more important than ever for communities, agriculture and the environment."

De Guzman said the state's reservoirs are starting to see the impacts of below average precipitation, with the state's largest reservoirs currently storing anywhere from between 38 percent of capacity at Lake Oroville up to 68 percent of capacity at Don Pedro Reservoir in Tuolumne County.

Water year 2021 has been similar to water year 2014, which was the third year of California's most recent severe drought (2012-2016).

"The two most hydrologically challenging years were 2014 and 2015. Those two years were actually California's warmest two years on records dating back over 120 years," de Guzman said. "Calendar year 2020 was actually the third warmest year on record."

A storm pattern is expected to move into the region this week, but de Guzman said it's not likely to be significant enough to change the state's current water outlook.

DWR is expected to conduct its fourth manual snow survey at Phillips Station on April 1.

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