Samples provide clues on the West’s water supply |

Samples provide clues on the West’s water supply

David Bunker
Sierra Sun
Brad Horn/Sun News Service

For 100 years Tahoe has been a training ground for snow surveyors measuring the water content of the West’s snowpack.

The snow sampling that first began on Mount Rose in 1906 will continue Wednesday as 60 snow surveyors hone their skills on the mountains of Tahoe’s west shore.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, oversees snow monitoring in 12 Western states.

“What we’re basically doing is teaching people to measure the snow, and how to survive in the snow,” said Anita Brown, a spokeswoman for the service.

The head of the agency, Arlen Lancaster, will be in at Granlibakken Conference Center this week to take part in the training for the first time ever.

Although California’s snow survey is headed up by the California Department of Water Resources, the conservation district is using Tahoe City as a location to teach the science and self-preservation skills needed by all snow surveyors.

Since 75 percent of the West’s water comes from snowmelt, precise snow data is critical for forecasting the year’s water supply.

Surveyors work along with more than 700 remote snow sensors that provide daily data on the snowpack.

Sampling snow often means traveling to remote mountain locations, so the seminar in Tahoe City will also include training in winter survival, including how to build a snow cave.

“Accurate snow sampling sometimes needs to be done in some pretty remote locations,” said school coordinator Tony Tolsdorf, in a written statement. “It is rare, but occasionally snow samplers get caught in the elements and have to hole in and wait for help.”

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