California's Final Snowpack Measurement of Season Confirms Dire Drought Conditions

The snowpack measurement provides a gauge for springtime runoff from the Sierra Nevadas that provides water for an estimated 25 million Californians

The final snowpack survey of the season was conducted Wednesday in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains and, as expected, the results illustrated the severity of the state's drought.

The snowpack has been in decline since electronic measurements on Dec. 30 found the statewide snow water equivalent at 50 percent of the historical average for that date. Subsequent statewide readings measured 25 percent of the Jan. 29 average and 19 percent of the March 3 average.

There was no snow on the ground at the site of Wednesday's survey at 6,800 feet in the Sierra Nevadas. The final manual survey of what is historically the wet season in California confirmed electronic readings that show the statewide snowpack with less water content than any April 1 since 1950.

The snowpack is usually at its peak in April. The statewide snowpack holds about 1.4 inches of water, which is 5 percent of the historical average of 28.3 inches.

The previous lowpoint for April 1 was 25 percent in 2014 and 1977.

"Today's survey underscores the severity of California's drought," said Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin. "Water conservation must become a way of life during the worst drought in most Californians’ lifetimes."

The survey coincided with an announcement from Gov. Jerry Brown regarding mandatory water-use reductions across the state. Mandatory water reductions will be put in place by the State Water Resources Control Board across California to reduce water usage by 25 percent -- a saving that will amount to about 1.5 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months, according to Brown's office.

The snowpack measurement is important because snow supplies about a third of the state's water, and a higher snowpack translates to more water in California reservoirs to meet demand in summer and fall. Officials say the snowpack is already far below the historic lows of 1977 and 2014, when it was 25 percent of normal on April 1 -- the time when the snowpack is generally at its peak.

The latest survey on March 3 found a snowpack water equivalent of just 0.9 inches -- a total that suggested California's drought will run through a fourth year.

Brown declared a drought emergency in January 2014 and stressed the need for sustained water conservation.

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