Sierra snowpack at 60 percent of normal |

Sierra snowpack at 60 percent of normal

Don Thompson
Associated Press

SACRAMENTO (AP) ” The first Sierra snow survey of the winter revealed a below-average snowpack, but previous wet seasons have left an abundance of water stored in California’s reservoirs.

Researchers from the state Department of Water Resources set out in a snowstorm Thursday for the first of five monthly snow surveys, part of an effort along the 400-mile Sierra Nevada range that includes 382 measuring stations.

“It was coming down pretty good ” about an inch an hour,” Frank Gehrke, head of the snow survey, said by telephone after measuring the snow at Phillips Station south of Lake Tahoe.

He measured the snow at 28.6 inches deep, about 69 percent of what is expected this time of year. The average snowpack for the entire range was 59 percent of normal when measured by water content.

The snowfall was deeper in the northern mountains, which were at 68 percent of normal. It petered off to the south, which had about half the snow of a typical January.

The department monitors the snowfall and water content each winter because California depends on spring snowmelt for more than a third of its drinking and irrigation water. Hydroelectric plants rely on snowmelt to produce about a quarter of the state’s power.

“We’re below normal at this point, but it’s so early it will be no problem catching up” with a few good winter storms, Gehrke said.

Just last spring, heavy rains caused extensive flooding and strained levees throughout the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. It was the third wet winter in a row for California, a circumstance that has left the state’s reservoirs full and the groundwater recharged, department spokesman Don Strickland said.

The department will conduct its other surveys each month through May.

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