CA Water Officials Set to Survey Vital Sierra Snowpack

The state's last survey, from late February, found the snowpack to be 22 percent of its normal level

Surveyors will try to read the tea leaves of the California drought by trekking into the Sierra Nevada mountain range and measuring the state’s snow levels Tuesday.

The data, which will be released by California’s Department of Water Resources (DWR), is crucial because it will detail how much water will be available for the state in the spring and summer as snow begins to melt.

The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) wrangled staff members together Monday for a preview conference that shed light on the forthcoming snow report, as well as what California’s historic dry conditions mean in the long run.

In previewing the snow report, water experts from NRDC and the Pacific Institute said they expect the Sierra snowpack to be at critically low levels, despite the state's recent storms.

“We always hang on the snowpack data, because in the southern third of the state we borrow our water,” Fritz Coleman, NBC4’s weathercaster, said of the information.

“And because we’re in a drought, we’re borrowing even more water, so the snowpack is probably more important this year than it’s been in a long time.”

DWR’s last survey, from late February, found the snowpack to be 22 percent of its normal level. It typically measures when the state’s snowpack is at its peak.

Though it is impossible to actively make it rain or snow, water experts said Monday that they want leaders and citizens to unite in a fight against dry conditions with "preparation." They called the drought "extensive."

California’s farms, cities and homes borrow one-third of their water from the snowpack, which melts into streams and reservoirs in the spring and early summer, according to NRDC. The rest comes from the Sacramento and Colorado River valleys.

“Everyone has a role to play -- our federal, state and local leaders, as well as every citizen,” said Steve Fleischli, director of NRDC’s water program, according to Monday’s transcript.

Fleischli noted changes that farms, cities and homes could make, such as better water management plans, water recycling and re-use programs, and citywide incentives for water conservation, such as the Cash for Grass Rebate Program.

More storms are expected to hit across California this week. The change in weather could boost the water and snow levels for the snowpack,- but not in a way that will drastically help the drought.

To make a difference, Coleman said that rainfall would have to reverse two or three years of below-normal precipitation. Areas in the north, such as northern and central Sierra, would have to get hammered for weeks in a row.

The rain will dip into Southern California in the middle of the week, giving cities in Los Angeles and Orange counties as much as a quarter inch, according to forecasts.

“It’s a moral victory for us to get rain this time of year, but it’s not going to be a drought buster by any stretch of the imagination,” Coleman said. “It just makes us feel better about ourselves.”

Results from Tuesday's snowpack survey are expected to be available in the afternoon.

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