And the survey says…


The April 1 snow totals for the Sierra Nevada region statewide measured in at 87 percent of normal. The southern Sierra is even less: 72 percent of average.  

Although the highly anticipated Miracle March never materialized, during the past 30 days there were two significant storm cycles that at least kept the reservoirs filling and the existing snow from completely melting.

The statewide readings are much better compared to last year when the water content of the snowpack was only five percent of normal, the lowest dating back to 1950.

After a January storm spilled over into February, the entire rest of the month only delivered another half-inch of rainfall in the Three Rivers foothills region. The rest of the state also remained mostly dry during February. 

March storms in the Tahoe region were a bit heavier than in the southern Sierra, but the state’s snowpack is substantially less than it was in the last really good snow year: 2011. That monster snowpack is now just a distant memory following four years of drought.

Currently, above 7,500 feet in the nearby mountains and up and down the Sierra, there remains about four feet of snowpack. The average water content is 24 inches statewide, but only 17 inches in the southern region, which includes Sequoia National Park. 

“While for many parts of the state there will be significant gains in both reservoir storage and stream flow, the effects of previous dry years will remain for now,” said Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys program.

In this era of climate change, runoff occurs sooner and in less quantity. Lake Kaweah is currently approaching its half-full mark and may actually reach capacity for a day or two this season.  

Water storage— The storage at Lake Kaweah on March 31, 2016, was 75,698 acre feet or slightly more than 40 percent of capacity. One year ago (March 27, 2015), it was just over 27,000 acre feet and in the midst of a prolonged drought. 

California’s two largest reservoirs — Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville — both released water for flood control safety early in March because so much water had been impounded. 

Shasta made its first flood control releases in five years and finished March with more than 4 million acre feet of storage or 109 percent of its historic average. It has risen 134 feet in elevation since early December.

Rainfall totals— In Three Rivers, the season-to-date rainfall is 21.82 inches. In the last really wet year (2011) at the end of March there was 29 inches. The rest of the season in 2011 produced another three inches.

So what’s in store for Kaweah Country from now to the official end of the rainfall season on June 30? Fortunately, the warm water remains in the equatorial Pacific so there are more El Nino storms in the forecast for Califonia.

Conservation— A La Nina usually follows an El Nino, and that means a return to drought-like conditions. Residents in California and all those who live or visit the West must learn to conserve water at unprecedented rates. The South Coast Water District in Southern California’s Orange County has looked into the future and the future is now.

The water agency’s officials are moving forward with plans to build a $90 million desalination plant near San Juan Creek. The plant has an opening date of 2019 and will provide 15 million gallons of drinking water daily for South Laguna, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, and some of San Clemente. 

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