Few immediate effects despite low Sierra snow levels, state says | NevadaAppeal.com

Few immediate effects despite low Sierra snow levels, state says

DON THOMPSON
Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO – While the Sierra snowpack is near its lowest level in almost two decades, state water managers said Monday they expect few immediate consequences for farmers and most California residents.

Summer water deliveries to the state’s orchards and farm fields are expected to be largely unaffected because a series of previous wet years has created sufficient storage in reservoirs and groundwater basins.

But Department of Water Resources officials said the state is seeing unusually dry conditions simultaneously in both northern and southern California for the first time since the 1987-1992 drought. They urged water agencies to start planning in case a second or third dry year follows this one.

“We haven’t seen the mountains this dry this time of year since 1988, 1990,” said Arthur Hinojosa, chief of the department’s hydrology branch.

The department is expecting to find the snowpack to be less than 30 percent of average when it completes its final snow survey of the season on Tuesday.

Runoff into state reservoirs ranges from about 67 percent of average at Lake Shasta to about 35 percent in the Southern Sierra, said Jeanine Jones, the department’s interstate resources manager.

Dry conditions in the 400-mile-long Sierra Nevada come during a continuing drought in the Rocky Mountains, the source for the Colorado River. It is unusual for both mountain ranges to see poor snow levels at the same time.

In the short term, dry conditions likely mean more wildfires, poorer grazing and reduced yields for non-irrigated crops such as winter wheat, Jones said. It also could mean potential problems for rural water agencies that do not have access to deep underground aquifers, Jones said.

Low runoff likely means poor river rafting and higher costs for hydroelectricity, but there should be enough water to help meet peak electricity demands this summer, Hinojosa said. Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley are unlikely to be greatly affected.