U.S. Water News Online
SACRAMENTO -- State water watchers have put their third
straight below-average winter in the books, but said they're not
worried about drought this summer.
They have made their final snow survey of the season in the Sierra
Nevada and Cascade ranges, the one they use to officially determine
the winter's total accumulation.
It showed that water stored in the snow pack is about 76 percent
of normal this winter statewide in California, down from 87 percent
last year but up from a dismal 58 percent in 2001.
``After a great December, we just went into a tailspin,'' said
Jeff Cohen of the state Department of Water Resources.
Hundreds of hands-on snow measurement across the Sierra range are
combined with readings from remote sensors to help gauge water
supplies for the critical dry summer months.
More than a third of the state's drinking and irrigation water
comes from Sierra snow, while snow-fed hydroelectric plants produce
about a quarter of California's power.
The winter rain and snow was above normal in the northwest
Trinity-Smith River area, but about 72 percent of average in the
Central Sierra from Lake Tahoe south to the San Joaquin River
headwaters. Southern California's snowfall was about 67 percent of a
But there are exceptions. The Owens Valley watershed that funnels
into the Los Angeles Aqueduct was about 80 percent of average, for
instance, while to the north the normally wet Feather River basin
that feeds the State Water Project was expected to produce little
more than half its traditional spring runoff.
``We haven't received any indication that anybody would be in dire
straits this summer,'' Cohen said. Though some individuals or
communities could see shortages, water agencies expect ``nothing on a
grand scale and nothing that can't be handled.''
The amount of water that actually will be delivered to farmers and
communities depends not only on the snow accumulation, but on water
stored in reservoirs and how much water managers think they need to
hold in the event the string of dry winters continues.
Trinity and Shasta lakes were above their average capacity, which
will help in the Sacramento Valley, while to the south the San
Joaquin Valley will likely be ``in the dry zone,'' Cohen said.
``Groundwater is OK in the Central Valley, but farmers are going
to have to pump a little more this year,'' he said.
Southern California benefited from a parade of heavy spring
storms, which helped raise groundwater levels and could trim the
amount of water the region must import.
Gusting Santa Ana winds, warmer temperatures and lack of rain were
already beginning to dry out the hillsides that were green from
storms a few weeks ago, however.
``If we don't see any more rain, we could see hills start to
change color in another month or so,'' bringing higher fire danger in
a couple more months, Los Angeles County fire Inspector Kurt
But the brush was dry enough recently to sustain a fire that
scorched about three acres of hillside.
``Already we're having our fires,'' said Los Angeles County fire
Inspector Edward Osorio. ``It's year-round for us. The little rain we
have quickly dries up and we're back in exactly the same situation.''
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