The first snow survey of winter found more bare ground than snow, the California Department of Water Resources announced Friday.
Manual and electronic readings taken Friday morning showed the snowpack’s water content about 20 percent of average for this time of year, tying 2012 for the driest initial winter reading in state history.
“While we hope conditions improve, we are fully mobilized to streamline water transfers and take every action possible to ease the effects of dry weather on farms, homes and businesses as we face a possible third consecutive dry year,” said DWR Director Mark Cowin in a statement.
The statewide reading is a mere 7 percent of the average April 1 measurement, when the snowpack is normally at its peak before melting into streams and reservoirs.
Electronic readings broken down by region showed the snowpack’s water content in the northern mountains was at 11 percent of normal for this date and 4 percent of the April 1 average. In the Central Sierra, which includes Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, the reading was 21 percent of normal and 8 percent of the April average. And in the Southern Sierra it was 30 and 10 percent, respectively.
The snowpack provides about a third of the water used by California’s cities and farms. “Every Californian can help by making conservation a daily habit,” Cowin said.
The continuing dry weather prompted Cowin to mobilize DWR’s drought management team Dec. 13 in an effort “to offset devastating impacts to citizen health, well-being and our economy,” the DWR statement said.
Gov. Jerry Brown also recently united DWR and other agencies in an Interagency Drought Task Force.
The task force will “streamline transfer of water from areas of relative abundance to areas of critical need, monitor water supply impacts in small rural communities whose groundwater sources are stressed by prolonged dry conditions and take other steps to mitigate the effects of dry weather,” the DWR said.
Meanwhile, local water agencies such as Tuolumne Utilities District and Calaveras County Water District have said the dry weather is a concern they are continuing to monitor. Management at both districts have previously stated its unlikely mandatory conservation will be required this year even if its dry.
However, TUD has said it could begin calling for voluntary conservation as early as February, when the snow survey around that time gives the district a better idea of what the year’s water supply will be.
The prospect of a third consecutive dry winter has been concerning to local businesses as well, who are already seeing fewer visitors to the area this season because of the lack of snow.
“Last year, during Christmas break, I did 300 rooms that were all skiers,” said Char McKeon, manager of the Inns of California in downtown Sonora. “I didn’t get that this year.”
McKeon said she only rented about 150 rooms from late December through New Years for the holiday break, when schools are out and families typically take winter vacations.
Most of the hotel’s revenue this winter has come from construction workers and contractors working on various projects going on in the county, such as a cable-internet project and Rim Fire recovery efforts.
Pam Baltimore, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service’s Rim Fire Recovery Team, said the dryness has allowed repair projects to continue in the area of the Stanislaus National Forest that was damaged by the blaze this summer.
The Rim Fire started Aug. 17 and burned through 257,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada, including 154,000 in the Stanislaus National Forest. Shortly after the fire was contained in October, the Forest Service launched projects to rehabilitate the charred landscape to prevent soil erosion, increased runoff and mudslides from occurring over winter.
“Fortunately, the lack of moisture is going to help us continue work in the hazardous areas,” Baltimore said.
However, prolonged dryness would contribute to increased fire danger next summer.
“The bad thing is if we don’t get a lot of precipitation in the next several months, it will make the fire outlook next summer not so great,” she said.