Robust California snowpack is good news for cities, farms
May 2, 2011
UPDATE: 3:45 p.m. Monday
SACRAMENTO, Calif. and#8212; Warmer spring temperatures have begun melting California’s formidable Sierra snowpack, but it’s still deep enough to make state water managers feel at ease.
The state Department of Water Resources took its final snow survey of the season on Monday and found the water content in the snowpack was 144 percent of normal. That number was 165 percent a month ago and keeps the state on track to provide 80 percent of the water requested by its contractors.
The snowpack supplies 25 million California residents and almost a million acres of farmland. This year’s water allocation is the highest since 2006, when water contractors received 100 percent of their requested amount.
This year’s snowpack measurements signal the wettest winter and spring since 1995 and officially ended a three-year drought that had been declared by the Schwarzenegger administration.
Still, department Director Mark Cowin warned against complacency, saying in a press release that “California can quickly turn from wet to dry.”
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In recent years, thousands of farm acres in the Central Valley have lain fallow because of lower-than-normal rain and snowfall, and because concern for dwindling fish populations has restricted pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Water delivery fell to as low as 35 percent of requests in 2008.
But snowfall in the Sierra Nevada this season reached a near-record high of 63.8 feet, second only to the 65 feet recorded in 1950-51. That has helped fill most major state reservoirs beyond normal levels, including Northern California’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, which are at capacity.