Winter storms have made for a promising start to California’s wet season, but several more months of consistent snowfall are needed to fill reservoirs around the state by this summer.
On Wednesday, Dec. 30, state water watchers found 136 percent of the long-term average water content in the snowpack at Phillips Station, near the entrance to Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort, for Jan. 1. About 5 feet of snow contained the equivalent of 16.3 inches of water at the site, according to results from the snow survey.
Last year at this time, the snowpack at the site had 33 percent of its average water content, according to information from the California Department of Water Resources. The water content in the Sierra Nevada snowpack as a whole is at about 110 percent of the long-term average, according to the state agency.
Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys program, said the results of the snow survey are encouraging, but noted California still has a long way to go when it comes to ending more than four years of drought.
“We still need a solid four to five months for recovery,” Gehrke said.
If storms continue and reservoirs are filled with runoff by this summer, it won’t necessarily mean the end to the drought, Gehrke added. Other measures, such as groundwater recharge, play into the recovery equation, Gehrke said. There’s also a high degree of variability between locations around the state when it comes to officially ending the ongoing water shortage.
Because of the dry conditions created by the drought, a greater percentage of runoff will soak into the soil and won’t end up in California’s reservoirs, Gehrke added.
“This is great snow for skiing, but from a hydrologic standpoint, we only care about water content,” Gehrke said while standing in loose, deep snow Wednesday.
California’s six largest reservoirs are holding between 22 percent (New Melones) and 53 percent (Don Pedro) of their historical averages for late December, according to the California Department of Water Resources.