First Sierra snow barely dents drought

A survey of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada found more snow than last year for this time of winter, but statewide measurements are still far below average, according to the state Department of Water Resources.

At one snow-course roughly 90 miles east of Sacramento, near Echo Summit, a manual survey by the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program found 21.3 inches of snow covering the ground. Based on readings from more than 100 electronic sensors throughout the Sierra Nevada, officials at the Department of Water Resources found a snow-water equivalent of 4.8 inches, which is just 50 percent of the multi-year average for Dec. 30.

Still, that’s an improvement over last year’s survey, which found the statewide snow-water equivalent to be just 20 percent of normal.

Mark Cowin, director of the DWR, said that despite improvements over last year, California still needs much more rain and snow in order to end the drought, which is now in its fourth consecutive year. DWR officials said that it’s still very early in the season and the snowpack may continue to build up over the coming months.

If the drought continues, however, farmers in the Central Valley and other areas of the state may be impacted. Snowpack supplies roughly one-third of the water used in California by residents, agriculture and industry, according to the DWR.

Maury Roos, chief hydrologist for the DWR in Sacramento, said much of the Bay Area relies on water from the Central Sierra. Based on electronic readings by the DWR, snowpack in that region is currently at 45 percent of normal for Dec. 30.