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Sierra snowpack below average

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Sierra snowpack below average

Postby ERIC » Sun Jan 07, 2007 10:38 pm

Sierra snowpack below average
But previous wet years leave no drought fears

Article Last Updated: 01/06/2007 02:46:38 AM PST

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

The snowfall was deeper in the northern mountains, which were at 68percent 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.

Bay Area water managers reacted similarly to Thursday's less-than-spectacular measurements.

"It's a little less than normal, but the season is still young," said Patty Friesen, spokeswoman for the Contra Costa Water District. "It's too early to tell."

The district's 500,000 customers get water taken directly from the Delta, which rises and falls with the Sierra runoff. The runoff is made up snow that accumulates during the winter, so a healthy snowpack is important to the district.

"We'd like to have more water at this point," said East Bay Municipal Utility District spokesman Jeff Becerra. "But it is still early in the season. We'll get a better sense of our outlook in February."

The utility district serves more than 1million people with water drawn from the Mokelumne River.

"We have a decent amount of storage," Becerra said. "But we also need to see how much precipitation we get this winter."

Just last spring, heavy rains caused extensive flooding and strained levees throughout the Sacramento-San Joaquin 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.

"Nobody seems to be too concerned right now about a shortage of water," Strickland said. Even if the rest of the winter remains relatively dry, "we don't start worrying about drought until we string two or three dry winters together."

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