SACRAMENTO — Winter storms have blanketed the Sierra Nevada with snow, leaving California with a snowpack slightly above normal and better than expected water supplies.
The Department of Water Resources also said this week that cities and farms will get 20 percent of the water they have requested. It’s a 5 percent increase from what was allocated earlier this year, but still well below normal.
“Clearly we’re going to have water shortages this year,” DWR director Mark Cowin told reporters on a conference call. “We all need to conserve water.”
Cowin said water deliveries would be slightly increased because the snowpack was in good shape.
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Melting snow creates water runoff, and thus is critical to the supplies of the State Water Project, the mammoth plumbing system that carries water from Northern California to Southern California. The leading user of state water in San Luis Obispo County is Morro Bay.
The water content of the Sierra snowpack is 106 percent of the normal level for this time of year across the 400-mile mountain range. This time last year, the reading was 81 percent of normal for the date.
The department monitors the snow’s water content because California depends on spring snowmelt from the range to supply water to about two-thirds of the state, and to farmers in the Central Valley. The snow is usually at its peak in April.
Three drought years have left Lake Oroville, the largest state-owned reservoir, less than half full. It also snowed and rained more this winter in areas other than the Feather River watershed, which feeds into Lake Oroville.
By comparison, the federal government’s Lake Shasta reservoir is about 85 percent full because more rain and snow fell in that region.
Terry Erlewine, general manager of the State Water Contractors, said water agencies around the state have been relying on limited reserves.
“It’s like a family trying to survive on 20 percent of its annual income,” Erlewine said.
The drought is largely to blame for water shortages, but federal restrictions on pumping to protect fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are curtailing state water deliveries by about 10 percent, Cowin said.
Electronic sensors show water content in the northern Sierra measured about 126 percent of normal for the entire northern region, 92 percent of normal in the central region and 105 percent of normal in the southern region to the Kern River.