Baja California snow survey signals another year of devastating drought


South of Lake Tahoe at Phillips Station, where officials set out to conduct the annual late-winter snowpack measurement on Friday, snow depth was just 2.5 inches. The average snow depth as of April 1 is 66.5 inches there, officials said.

More importantly, that 2.5 inches of snow contained only the equivalent of 1 inch of water, just 4% of the April 1 average, according to Sean de Guzman, an engineer with the California Department of Water Resources. .

Snow typically accumulates in the Sierra Nevada throughout the winter, storing valuable water that later melts and flows into reservoirs in the spring. California’s snow cover provides 30% of the state’s water, according to the Department of Water Resources.
Earlier on Friday, the National Weather Service reported an alarming statistic: January through March of this year was the driest period “by far” in 101 years of record at three key observing stations in California.

“During this period, California received only about half the amount of precipitation on record compared to 2013, which ended up being the driest calendar year on record,” de Guzman said.

It’s a huge dip from how this winter started on the West Coast.

Climatologists were delighted in December when they saw the snow accumulating that month. More than 17 feet of snow fell near Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada, breaking decades-old records.

Then, from January, the precipitation “stabilized”. Statewide snowfall, which — at 6.5 feet — was above average in December, has dropped to 90% of normal. Only 9 inches of snow fell at Donner Pass in January.

State officials are bracing for water shortages this summer. California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order on Monday calling on local water agencies to implement their conservation plans and urging residents to self-monitor water use. He directed the State Water Resources Board to consider banning the watering of decorative grass in businesses and institutions, according to a statement from his office, but would not include residential lawns or green spaces in the schools and parks.

“While we have made historic investments to protect our communities, our economy and our ecosystems from the worsening drought in the West, it is clear that we need to do more,” Newsom said.

And on March 18, the Department of Water Resources announced it was reducing the amount of water shared with municipalities by 10 percent as the state enters its third year of drought.

The state originally planned to give the various regions 15% of the water requested through the state water project, but will now reduce that percentage to 5%. The State Water Project is a state-owned “multipurpose water storage and distribution system” that shares the water supply of different cities and counties, according to its website.

“We are experiencing the whiplash of real-time climate change with extreme fluctuations between wet and dry conditions,” department director Karla Nemeth said in a statement at the time. “We are pursuing a series of actions to balance the needs of endangered species, the conservation of water supplies, and water deliveries for millions of Californians.”

CNN’s Stella Chan and Rachel Ramirez contributed to this report.

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