California Researchers Find Drastically Low Snowpack, Spelling Danger For 2014 Water Supplies

CREDIT: Associated Press

Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the California Department of Water Resources, left, leads his group out to measure snow levels near Echo Summit, Calif., on Friday, Jan. 3, 2014.

Snow surveyors went into the Sierra Nevada mountains on California’s northeastern border on Friday to take their first measurement of the season. They found snowpack at one-fifth of normal for this time of year.

The findings aren’t too surprising considering California was parched for water throughout 2013, with major metropolises like Los Angeles and San Francisco experiencing record-low precipitation. Los Angeles, which averages 14.74 inches of rain, ended the year with 3.4 inches. Currently, almost the entire state is gripped in drought.

But the below average snowpack is an indicator of the water challenges 2014 is likely to bring. According to state resource managers, snowpack usually provides about one third of California’s annual water use. This year, it is more likely to account for about one twentieth.

“While we hope conditions improve, we are fully mobilized to streamline water transfers and take every action possible to ease the effects of dry weather on farms, homes and businesses as we face a possible third consecutive dry year,” Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said in a written statement.

There is still hope, and time for rain dances or prayers. Big winter storms often happen in California, and a few of those can turn a dry year into an average, or even a wet, one. However, considering this is California’s third straight dry year — and that climate change is projected to make the region more arid — state water managers are preparing for the driest.

In December, the Department of Water Resources formed a drought management team.

“We have had two back-to-back dry years, and a third one will really increase the detrimental effects,” Ted Thomas, spokesman for the state Department of Water Resources, told the San Jose Mercury News.

Governor Jerry Brown also created an Interagency Task Force last month in which agency heads meet regularly to review the water situation and advise the governor on if he should declare a statewide drought emergency. While state emergencies are usually employed for safety issues, in 2008 Governor Schwarzenegger issued a statewide drought emergency.