FRESNO, Calif. — Surveyors will crunch across the deepest mountain snowdrifts California has seen in years on Thursday to take the first snow measurement of the spring, a time when the snow begins to melt and flow downhill.
The snowpack stretches along 400 miles of the Sierra Nevada, creating an icy reservoir that provides roughly one-third of irrigation and drinking water to the nation’s most populous state during hot, dry months of the year.
The water content of the snowpack measured at 164 percent of normal Wednesday, according to the state’s electronic monitors throughout the mountain range.
That’s the highest since 2011, the year before extreme drought hit California marked by the state’s driest four-year period on record, officials said.
“When the history of this winter’s wet season is written, undoubtedly it’ll make note of the fact that this is a wet season that helped alleviate much of the drought,” said Doug Carlson, a spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources.
The deep snowdrifts today come in stark contrast to two years ago, when Gov. Jerry Brown travelled with surveyors to the mountains near Lake Tahoe, standing in a meadow barren of measureable snow.
He later ordered residents to use less water at home — a first for California. At the height of drought, hundreds of domestic wells, many in rural farming communities, ran dry, forcing residents to drink bottled water and bathe from buckets.
Some farmers in the state that leads the nation in producing fruits, vegetables and nuts, drew down wells to grow their crops, while others left fields unplanted.
Drought eased last winter, and monster storms in recent months have put a major dent in the five-year drought.
Winter storms filled the state’s major reservoirs, while also triggering flooding and rockslides, damaging roads, bridges, dams and other critical infrastructure with a repair bill officials say could top $1 billion.
It’s unclear whether the governor will lift his emergency drought declaration, which remains in place despite heavy storms. Brown has said he will make a decision after this spring’s wet season.
Officials say flooding will become a concern again as the weather warms, melting the large snowpack.
“It does have to eventually come down from the mountain,” Carlson said.