Sierra Survey Boosts Drought Outlook


California Council on Science and Technology Fellow John Thompson, right, joins Frank Gehrke, Chief Snow Surveyor for the Department of Water Resources, at the fourth media snow survey for the 2015/2016 season on March 30th.

What a difference a year makes.

Twelve months ago, on April 1, 2015, Governor Brown stood at the site of the State Department of Water Resources (DWR) annual early spring snow survey in the Sierra Nevada—Phillips Station, 90 miles east of Sacramento—but there was no snow to survey.

The Governor stood on dirt that day and issued his mandate to cut urban water use in California by 25 percent due to dire drought conditions. The Statewide snowpack’s water content was only 5 percent of the historical April 1 average, the lowest amount ever recorded.

Fast forward to March 30 this year, and the DWR snow survey told a much improved—if not totally rosy—story. Several feet of snow covered the Phillips Station site and, according to DWR, the snowpack water content on March 30 was 97 percent of the historical average for that day. Statewide, the snowpack—which accounts for nearly one-third of California’s water—was at 87 percent of normal.

However, while rainfall so far this year is significantly improved over last year for the critical Northern California watershed (29 percent above average), DWR cautions that conditions are less favorable in the Central Valley and Southern California. Key reservoirs in the north—Shasta, Oroville, and Folsom—now store more water than the average, but a lack of rain in the south has resulted in below-average storage in nearly all reservoirs there.

DWR emphasizes that, due to drought conditions that are still felt in many parts of the State, residents should continue water conservation efforts.

More information from the Department of Water Resources

For water conservation tips, visit Save Our Water:
Drought Breaking News Page:
Water Conditions Page:

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