Statewide Snow Survey Has Water Agencies Taking Cautious Stance

With a statewide snow survey today showing low snow water content, local water agencies are taking a cautious stance on water supplies in 2012 and preparing for a potentially dry 2013.

The Department of Water Resources’ final snow survey of the season showed that statewide, snowpack water content is only 40% of normal for the date. Last year this time, snowpack water content was 190% of normal.  

Above-average reservoir storage due to wet conditions last winter will mitigate the impact on water supply in 2012, but a potentially dry 2013 could have severe impacts on supplies that year, said DWR Director Mark Cowin today in a news release.

"The fact that we just had a dry winter right after an unusually wet season last year shows that we must be prepared for all types of weather,” he said.

For some agencies, wet conditions in March and April helped ease fears of reduced water supplies in 2012. On April 1, Sonoma County Water Agency updated its Russian River water supply conditions from “critical” to “normal” and avoided reducing Russian River flows in April as called for under dry or critical designations.

Kings River Water Association member agencies have alerted their water users of below-average supplies, but many units are able to carry over water from last year.

Not all agencies are faring as well. Last week, the City of Santa Cruz approved a 5% water use reduction to take effect from May 1 to Oct. 31, including restrictions on landscape watering and other outdoor water use and enforceable with fines. Nearby on the Monterey Peninsula, Stage 1 water conservation is in effect, limiting outdoor residential water use to two days per week and prohibiting water waste.

East Bay Municipal Utility District has enough water to avoid seeking a supplemental supply under its federal contract or imposing any drought-related restrictions. However, it expects to fall far short this November of where its supply totals were a year ago.

Fortunately, reservoir storage statewide remains strong. Lake Oroville in Butte County, the State Water Project’s principal reservoir, is 97% full or 116% of average for the date. Lake Shasta, the mainstay of the federal Central Valley Project, is 98% full or 112% of average.

DWR expects to be able to deliver 60% of the slightly more than 4 million acre-feet of SWP water requested this year. Last year, the final allocation was 80% of requested supplies.