Survey finds above normal snowpack

By Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat January 04, 2013 10:43 am

The state Department of Water Resources released the results of its first snow survey of 2013 on Wednesday, with manual and electronic measurements showing promising numbers for water supplies.

Water content in the Central Sierra snowpack is at 133 percent of the average for this time of year and already half of the average for peak on April 1. 

 

Local reservoirs are also filling — Don Pedro is at 66 percent of capacity and 100 percent of its historical average, while New Melones is at 66 percent capacity and 119 percent of its historical average, according to the DWR. 

Water from Don Pedro goes to customers of the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts, while New Melones is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as part of the Central Valley Project, designed to protect the valley from both water shortages and floods.

Snow and water measurements are off to a strong start elsewhere in the state as well, with the snow levels statewide at 49 percent peak average and 133 percent for this time of year. 

Most other major reservoirs are also reporting at least half capacity and 100 percent of historical average, according to the Department of Water Resources. The snowpack accounts for about a third of California’s water supply every year.

The early wet season is a far cry from last year, when near-record dry conditions meant the snowpack in April was less than half the average. 

The low levels kept mountain passes open historically late, hurt business at area ski resorts and affected local water supplies.

“We are off to a good water supply start for the new year, but we have to remember that we have seen wet conditions suddenly turn dry more than once,” department spokesman Ted Thomas said in a statement.

For local water supply, the recent snow is encouraging. But Glen Nunnelley, an engineer with Tuolumne Utilities District, said it’s early enough that they have to still wait and see how the rest of the season turns out.

Because TUD’s water supply comes mostly out of the small Pinecrest reservoir and downstream from Lyons Reservoir, the Tuolumne County water supply is more affected by how quickly the snow melts than if there was more storage. 

Nunnelley said it “looks good” right now for them, though the agency will get a clearer picture of the upcoming summer and fall supply in April and May.

“If (the snow) would just stay there as late as possible, that’s the best scenario,” he said.

The National Weather Service is predicting clear and dry conditions for at least the next week.

With the numbers, the department announced Wednesday that it will likely be able to deliver 40 percent of the water requested by 29 agencies from the State Water Project with increases likely with more winter weather. 

Water deliveries from the State Water Project, which go toward residential and agricultural uses, have ranged in recent years from 35 percent in 2008 to 80 percent in 2011.