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California DWR: Snow water content is 80 percent of normal

The California Department of Water Resources’ (DWR) third snow survey of the winter season indicates snow water content is 80 percent of normal for the date, statewide.

“Although recent storms have added to the snowpack, California remains in a serious drought,” said DWR Director Lester Snow.

“This year’s precipitation levels are still below average. On the heels of two critically dry years it is unlikely we will make up the deficit and be able to refill our reservoirs before winter’s end. It’s very important that Californians continue to save water at home and in their businesses,” Snow said.

Manual survey results taken on March 2 at four locations near Lake Tahoe were combined with electronic readings and indicate a statewide snowpack water content of 80 percent (84 percent in the Northern Sierra, 77 percent in the Central Sierra, and 83 percent in the Southern Sierra.)

Last year at this time, snowpack was 114 percent of normal, but the driest spring on record followed, resulting in a second consecutive dry water year.

On Feb. 27, Gov. Schwarzenegger declared a drought state of emergency directing DWR and other state agencies to provide assistance to people and communities impacted by the drought.

Local water agencies are updating Urban Water Management Plans and DWR is facilitating what water transfers may be available through its Drought Water Bank program. Many providers have already enacted mandatory or voluntary water rationing and it is likely more agencies will require some form of rationing if dry conditions persist.

Storage in California’s major reservoirs is low. Lake Oroville, the principal storage reservoir for the State Water Project (SWP), is at 39 percent of capacity, and 55 percent of average storage for this time of year.

Continuing dry conditions and regulatory agency restrictions on Delta water exports are limiting water deliveries to farms and urban areas.

A forthcoming biological opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect salmon and steelhead may further reduce pumping capability.

DWR’s early estimate is that it will only be able to deliver 15 percent of requested State Water Project water this year to the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley, Central Coast and Southern California.

Gov. Schwarzenegger has outlined steps to safeguard the state’s water supply through a comprehensive plan that includes water conservation, more surface and groundwater storage, new investments in the state’s aging water infrastructure, and improved water conveyance to protect the environment and provide a reliable water supply.

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