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California Snowpack Level at Fifth Lowest Since 1930 [VIDEO]

Apr 02, 2014 04:42 PM EDT
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 Frank Gehrke, Chief of the California Cooperative Snow Survey's Program, measures snowpack on April 1, 2014.
Despite an early spring accumulation of snow in Northern California's mountains, annual snowpack levels are still below average, according to the state's Department of Water Resources. In the image, Frank Gehrke, Chief of the California Cooperative Snow Survey's Program, measures snowpack on April 1, 2014.
(Photo : YouTube Screenshot )

Despite an early spring accumulation of snow in Northern California's mountains, annual snowpack levels are still below average, according to the state's Department of Water Resources.

Even factoring in the precipitation brought by recent storms, California's snowpack is far below normal, the DRW reported Monday, noting that the "Water Year" - an interval from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 of the following year - is on track to be one of the driest on record.

"The water equivalent of the statewide snowpack has increased about 7.2 inches since the season's first survey on January 3, but the new reading of 9.2 inches is only 32 percent of the average April 1 measurement when the snowpack normally is at its peak before the spring melt," the DWR reported.

Even though March brought in above average precipitation for much of Northern California, overall drought-like conditions continue.

The year's final snow survey will occur May 1.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the annual April snow survey reveled snowpack measurements to be at the lowest since 1988 - the fifth lowest reading since snowpack record-keeping started in 1930.

"With severe to exceptional drought conditions already crippling more than 95 percent of the state, the latest snowpack results serve as a dismal signal of how little water will flow into California streams and rivers that normally replenish the state's reservoirs in advance of dry summer and fall months," the NDRC said in a statement. "The snowpack - often called California's largest reservoir - normally provides about one-third of the water used by the state's cities and farms."

Steve Fleischli, the Water Program Director at the NDRC, said that the dwindling water supply is a sign that our way of life - full of increasing resource consumption - is becoming tenuous.

"Recent snow and rains have made only a small dent in California's historic drought, meaning we're headed into summer with far less snowmelt available than normal," Fleischli said. "For far too long Californians have used more water than we can sustain and done so in ways that are not as efficient as we could. This system of too little supply and too much demand is finally catching up with us."

"And as climate change becomes the "new normal," our water woes will only get worse," Fleischli added. "We need to rethink projects that cost billions, take years to build and aren't going to help anytime soon. This drought is a critical opportunity for our leaders to step up and invest in what works: strategies that improve water efficiency and tap underused local supplies."

Current climate projections forecast a grim future for California snowpack, with a 25-40 percent drop compared to the historical average expected by 2050. By 2100, April snowpack averages will fall to 50-75 percent of current April averages, the NRDC said.

"While California should plan on getting less water than in the past from snowpack, the opportunities for smarter water use are only growing," the NRDC said in a statement. "Urban and agricultural water efficiency, water recycling, better groundwater management, and stormwater capture are becoming California's most promising drought-resistant water supplies. Investments in water conservation and local water supplies have consistently been far more cost-effective and less environmentally damaging than investments in new, large reservoir projects in the state."

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