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Weather: California storms more than double snow/water supply, still not enough

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Drought recedes further after March storms, but the future looks ominous

Snow on the mountains in Tahoe.
Snow in Tahoe.
Photo by Derick Carss/Shutterstock

While March is going out like a lamb with record-high Bay Area temperatures, the previous weeks of stormy weather added up to sweet relief for California’s water supply. But when the water watchers are done crunching the numbers, the state still comes up short.

According to the California Department of Water Resources’ statewide summary of snow-water content report released Friday, the state’s snowpack presently sits at 57 percent of its historical average.

On the one hand, that’s roughly two and a half times the 22-23 percent it registered in February, a testament to the generosity of the storm gods over the past four weeks. On the other hand, well, it’s still only 57 percent; if this were a classroom, California would be flunking its water courses.

The Central Sierras area is doing the best, packing 64 percent of its normal pile for this time of year; the Northern Sierras are having it hardest, hanging in with only about 44 percent of the usual.

New York-based environmental non-profit National Resources Defense Council explained in a 2014 fact sheet why water watchers are so anxious about the snowpack:

In a typical year (or what used to be typical), the state’s snowpack stores 15 million acre-feet of water, more than all the water used by California cities in 2010.

[...] Snowpack is important to many water users in California, including those that divert water from rivers upstream of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta as well as those that rely on the state’s two major water supply networks, which depend in part on this melting snowpack because they receive water from river basin systems fed by snowmelt.

Collectively, the [networks] provide a portion of the water for more than 25 million people and more than 3.6 million acres of farmland.

On the somewhat bright side, the state’s latest drought map issued by the U.S. Drought Monitor (a collaboration of NOAA, the Department of Agriculture, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln) shows drought conditions nominally in retreat after March, although the gains appear to be of the fragile and reversible sort. Alas.

U.S. Drought Monitor

In all, 40.77 percent of California is a state of at least “moderate drought” on the map released Thursday, down from more than 47 percent a week prior. The map continues to register normal precipitation conditions in the Bay Area.

Of course, three months ago only 12.69 percent of the state was in drought, and 8.24 percent just one year ago.