SOURCE: CA Department of Water Resources

CA Department of Water Resources

February 26, 2009 15:48 ET

DWR Schedules Third Snow Survey of 2008-2009 Season

SACRAMENTO, CA--(Marketwire - February 26, 2009) - The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) will conduct its third snow survey of the season at 11 a.m., Monday, March 2, 2009, near Lake Tahoe.

Survey Location and Results

Phillips Station at Highway 50 and Sierra at Tahoe Road, about 90 miles east of Sacramento, is the manual survey location. Reporters and photographers should take snowshoes or cross-country skis and park vehicles along Highway 50.

Snow depth and water content figures should be available by 1 p.m. This survey is the third of five monthly measurements that help water supply planners estimate the amount of spring snowmelt runoff into reservoirs.

Water Supply Threats

January 2009 was the eighth driest on record, and due to drought conditions DWR was unable to increase its very low 15 percent initial water delivery allocation to State Water Project (SWP) contractors. Electronic sensors measure snowpack at 78 percent of normal statewide. Hydrologists predict the season must end at 120 to 130 percent of normal in order to replenish reservoirs, a scenario that becomes increasingly unlikely as the rainy season passes.

Local water agencies are developing water contingency plans, and groundwater will become increasingly important if the SWP allocation cannot be increased. So far, 25 water agencies have imposed mandatory water restrictions, and 66 others have voluntary restrictions in place.

Besides dry conditions, regulatory restrictions to protect native fish species could severely impact SWP deliveries. Most recently, the National Marine Fisheries Service was given three more months to produce a management plan to protect salmon and steelhead that could further reduce water delivery. Previous restrictions include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Opinion to protect Delta smelt that could reduce deliveries from 20 to 50 percent.

Regardless of snowpack conditions, it is clear water deliveries through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will remain in jeopardy because of regulatory uncertainty. DWR is working toward a comprehensive solution that must include additional water storage and alternate conveyance. These measures would increase water supply reliability for farms and businesses, and benefit fisheries. Alternate conveyance would allow water deliveries, while avoiding pumping hazards to the most sensitive fish species.

About Snow Surveying

Snow-water content is important in determining the coming year's water supply. The measurements help hydrologists prepare water supply forecasts as well as provide others, such as hydroelectric power companies and the recreation industry, with much needed data.

Snow monitoring is coordinated by DWR as part of the multi-agency California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program. Surveyors from more than 50 agencies and utilities visit hundreds of snow measurement courses each month to gauge the amount of water in the snowpack.

In addition to this single manually measured site, reporters can find the latest real-time estimations of statewide water content posted on the Internet at http://cdec.water.ca.gov/cgi-progs/snowsurvey_sno/DLYSWEQ.

The Department of Water Resources operates and maintains the State Water Project, provides dam safety and flood control and inspection services, assists local water districts in water management and water conservation planning, and plans for future statewide water needs.