Sierra Snow Survey Reveals California on the Verge of Another Critically Dry Year

The California Department of Water Resources conducted its third manual snow survey at Phillips Station near Tahoe on Tuesday, revealing what was already known – the Sierra is short of its historical snowpack average. According to water officials, unless there’s a strong series of storms coming in March and April, California is on the verge of another critically dry year.

“As California closes out the fifth consecutive dry month of our water year, absent a series of strong storms in March or April we are going to end with a critically dry year on the heels of last year’s dry conditions,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “With back-to-back dry years, water efficiency and drought preparedness are more important than ever for communities, agriculture and the environment.”

The manual survey recorded 56 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent (SWE) of 21 inches, which is 86 percent of average for this location. The SWE measures the amount of water contained in the snowpack and is a key component of DWR’s water supply forecast.

The results of the survey were a little better that in 2020, but not enough to recover the area from lack of water resources. “With below average precipitation across the state, California’s reservoirs are starting to see the impacts of a second consecutive dry year.” said Sean de Guzman, Chief of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section

With below-average precipitation across the state, California’s reservoirs are showing the impacts of a second consecutive dry year. Lake Oroville is currently at 55 percent of average and Lake Shasta, California’s largest surface reservoir, is currently at 68 percent of average for this date. 

Without significant precipitation in the coming months, the state could once again feel the impact of shortened water resources. Low water levels can increase wildfire danger throughout the state, a devastating result seen in the past 3 years in Northern California. Lack of water also impacts wildlife and farming resources.

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