The California Department of Water Resources its first snow survey Tuesday and determined that water content in the state’s snowpack is 136 percent of average for this time of year. Although recent storms have provided near average water content in the Sierra snowpack, actual runoff is well below average. At just 56 percent of average, less water has been available to fill up key reservoirs.
“We’re optimistic that California’s water supply will get a boost this year, but we aren’t there yet,” said Terry Erlewine, general manager of the State Water Contractors. “After four bone-dry years, we have a lot of catch-up to do, and it’s not likely to happen in one winter.”
California uses water stored in reservoirs during dry summer months and replenishes reserves during winter months. Sequential years of drought have taken a toll on storage levels, and the state is heading into 2016 with water levels in key reservoirs well below capacity.
The state’s vast majority of water supply capability depends in part on how much snow falls in the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Throughout the winter months, the state measures how much water content is in Sierra Nevada snowpack, giving water managers a predictor of how much water they can anticipate. This winter, State Water Project (SWP) contractors are projected to receive 10 percent of water supplies in 2016. Regardless of how much is actually delivered, SWP contractors must continue to pay for a full allocation of the amount of water included in their contracts.
Snow melt in the Sierra fills rivers and streams that flow to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta) – the heart of the state’s water supply.
The State Water Contractors receives a portion of the water that flows through the Delta serving 26 million residents, the majority of the state’s businesses and 750,000 acres of farmland.