Snowpack Slips Further

bay_2981.jpgAfter the puny amount of precipitation we had in January, you sort of knew this was coming. Sure enough, after the second survey of the season, the statewide average for water content in the Sierra snowpack has slipped further.

As of today’s survey, the state’s Dept. of Water Resources says the snowpack’s water component is 61% of normal for this date. A month ago it was closer to three-quarters. Normally water content increases over the course of the snow season.

It only serves to cement growing fears that the coming summer will make last year’s water restrictions look like a tea party. In an unusually blunt statement, DWR Director Lester Snow said “We may be at the start of the worst California drought in modern history.” Reports are already coming out of the Central Valley of farmers planning to take more acreage out of production this year, and some cities anticipate going to court to get their desired water allocations.

Today’s survey combines manual tests at four alpine locations with readings from a network of electronic sensors. Even more alarming are some of the readings from key reservoirs. Lake Oroville, the main holding tank for the State Water Project, is at 43% of “normal” and just 28% of total capacity.

A developing La Nina condition in the Pacific may divert the jet stream and hold more rain at bay, as the season winds down. There are about two months left in California’s core “wet” season.

Photo by Heidemarie Carle: San Pablo Bay after some sparse January rain.

Snowpack Slips Further 29 January,2009Craig Miller


Craig Miller

Craig is a former KQED Science editor, specializing in weather, climate, water & energy issues, with a little seismology thrown in just to shake things up. Prior to that, he launched and led the station's award-winning multimedia project, Climate Watch. Craig is also an accomplished writer/producer of television documentaries, with a focus on natural resource issues.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor