The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) will conduct its first snow survey of the new winter season today at 11 a.m., 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. Snow depth and water content figures should be available by noon. The survey will be the first of five monthly measurements that help water supply planners estimate the amount of spring snowmelt runoff into reservoirs.
California’s snowpack water content is particularly significant this year because the state has endured two years of drought and reservoirs are low. Because less than normal water supply conditions exist, the initial State Water Project (SWP) allocation for 2009 was placed at only 15 percent of water contractors’ requested amounts. Besides dry conditions, regulatory restrictions to protect native fish species are severely impacting SWP deliveries.
The Fish and Wildlife Service recently released a Biological Opinion (BiOp) to guide SWP operations to best protect Delta smelt. This BiOp could reduce deliveries from 20 percent to 50 percent. In December 2007, Judge Oliver Wanger restricted pumping to protect the Delta smelt which resulted in a 25 percent cut to contractors. In an unrelated November 2008 decision, California Fish and Game Commission implemented take restrictions for the longfin smelt which could also reduce pumping by 17 percent in an average water year.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is expected soon to release its Biological Opinion to protect salmon and steelhead which could further reduce water delivery.
Regardless of snowpack conditions, it is clear water deliveries through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will remain in jeopardy. DWR is working towards 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. 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.