Sierra snowpack falls to one of the lowest levels in 70 years


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Troubled by high temperatures and a history of drought over the past three months, the Sierra Nevada ice rink, the source of 30% of the state’s water, has hit some of its constituents. low levels for the impact of winter on generations.

With state water officials scheduled to conduct an ice survey Friday at the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort, standard data published on the open mountain range showed only 39% of the ice. usually on Wednesdays. The measurements are the latest indication that California’s three -year drought is growing significantly.

From a water supply standpoint, Sierra’s April 1 ice reading is seen as the biggest of the year. The snow will fall slightly after April 1, so water planners in cities, farms and animal shelters can check out how much more is available for the summer ahead.

In comparison, on April 1 last year, 62% were the norm. Going back to 1950, there were only five times less snow on April 1 than this year, all of them during the dry season – in 2015 (5% of the norm), 2014 (25%), 1988 (29%), 1977 (25%) and 1976 (37%).

“There was a lot of excitement in the month of December about the end of the drought,” said Andrew Schwartz, lead scientist at UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Laboratory near Donner Summit on west Lake Tahoe. “We had a December record and have had very little if anything since then.”

Schwartz learned in December that his 6,800 -foot -high site in Soda Springs had received 214 inches of snow from massive river storms – the largest since the floods began. new story there in 1970.. In January, February and March combined, only 41 inches of snow fell, or 19% of the historical average for those three months.

“We have snow here,” he said Friday. “It’s not fixed. But the melting has really started. We lost about a foot last week. We’re starting to see big pieces of dirt.”

The trend continued in the state.

In San Francisco, only 1.13 inches of rain fell in January, February and March of this year. It was the lowest number in that three -month period in 173 years, when history began with the Gold Rush in 1849, according to meteorologist Jan Null of Golden Gate Weather Services in Half Moon Bay.

Were it not for the severe storms in California in October and December, the Sierra snow would be much lower now.

The good news is that the early winter gave some “money in the bank,” experts said, raising water levels. From Oct. 1, San Francisco received 17.36 inches of rain, or 86% of its historical average; Oakland is 15.89 inches, or 97% of its historic average; and San Jose 7.00 inches, or 60% of its average.

But because of the drought of the past two years, California’s lakes will not be full again this winter. They are currently below average, leading to water shortages across the state that will be worse in the hotter months of the coming summer. And as the grass and vegetation dry up, fire will continue to be an eternal threat.

On Thursday, Shasta, Shasta, near Redding, was only 38% full. And its second -largest, Oroville, in Butte County, is only 47% full.

“This is the third year in a row on the drought,” said Jay Lund, director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences. “There’s been more rain in Northern California than we did last year, and less than in 2020. But we’ve had a very long, dry season with dry temperatures over the past three months. That’s not good. It’s drying all the soil and melting the ice pack. The water will probably be less this year than it was in 2020 or 2021. “

Schwartz noted that climate change would play a significant role in California’s economic development. Hot temperatures increase drought. And when high -end systems break from the West Coast, allowing for more major river storms as of 2017, those winters are wetter than usual for the better. the temperature of the water to be melted in the storms.

“We’ve always had these kinds of events, but the weather is a lot harder,” he said.

All 58 counties of California have been in a crisis situation since last year. On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered the state’s 420 largest water systems – cities, water districts and private businesses – to increase water conservation by going through phase 2 of their dry planning.

There are six levels in the plans, as required by state law, with six being the most important. Some suppliers, such as San Jose Water Company, are at level 3 and require customers to water lawns no more than two times a week.

The others, including the East Bay Municipal Utility District, Contra Costa Water District and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which serve millions of people in the Bay Area, are at level 1 with most of the rules and little implementation. Those agencies are expected next month to tighten the rules and be able to impose fees or higher rates for those who use more water. But that is not the only problem for some customers. On Friday, San Francisco introduced a 5% surcharge on water bills to cover lost money from low -income users.

Most locals don’t work like a severe drought. At Evergreen Nursery in San Leandro, manager Wallace Garrett said Friday that few people are reporting.

“It’s the first morning of the season,” he said. “It may come. But not many people have asked about reducing water.”

His advice: Watch your plants. If the leaves fall off, they need watering.

“There are a lot of people on the water,” he said. “Stick your finger in the ground about half an inch. If it’s wet the water isn’t good.”

And grasses, where do you use 50% of your living water in the summer?

“I encourage you to cut your grass,” he said. “The leaves are beautiful, but they are a waste of money. You cannot eat them. You spend a lot of money to give them water. The real plants are just as beautiful. California and less water. ”

California drought: Sierra Nevada snowfall falls below average after January drought

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