Disaster: California’s Sierra Nevada Snowpack Hits 0% of Normal

Sierra snowpack (Justin Hall / Fickr / Creative Commons)
Justin Hall / Fickr / Creative Commons

California’s record drought took a stunning turn for the worse last week: on Thursday, the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains officially disappeared.

California’s Department of Water Resources reported that the Sierra snowpack hit 0 percent of normal on May 28.

The Sierra Nevada snowpack is one of the most crucial sources of surface water for California cities and farms, and without it, the state is in serious trouble. The state relies on the melted snow in summer to get it through months without rain; now, with the start of summer still a few weeks away, California will be without its most traditionally dependable water source.

According to Slate.com, there are still some patches of snow at very high elevations. But it won’t be enough to change the 0% designation. And more importantly, the water just isn’t there.

California has found itself in an increasingly desperate situation; on April 1, with the snowpack hovering at around 6 percent, Gov. Jerry Brown issued the state’s first mandatory water cutback order in history. The State Water Resources Control Board has been busily writing and implementing the plan, which will affect all of California’s roughly 400 water agencies.

Water levels at California reservoirs are at historic or near-historic lows. Parts of the Central Valley are literally sinking as thirsty residents extract more groundwater through water wells than is replenished naturally by rainfall.

Earlier this month, California farmers with “senior” water rights offered to give up 25% of their allotments in exchange for no future cuts. And the drought is forcing cities like Fresno to make once unthinkable choices, like that between clean air or drinkable water.

The state could see some mild relief soon; Weather West reports that El Niño conditions are intensifying in the Pacific. But a report earlier this month suggested that even a “super El Niño” wouldn’t be enough to end California’s four-year-long drought.

Looks like California could be in it for the long haul.

Photo: File


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