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Winter wonderland showing promise for drought relief

by Alan Markow, published

Driving around Lake Tahoe communities you see snow piled up everywhere.  Ten, twenty foot high mountains of snow that have been pushed off of streets, parking lots and driveways.  Snow is plentiful this season, which has not been the case for the past three winters when disappointing amounts of powder have led to water shortages throughout the state.

The snow is so good this year that record numbers of skiers are braving chain controls and black ice to reach Tahoe area ski resorts for the chance to speed headlong down the side of their favorite mountain.

It’s good to see the snow back in the mountains.  And it’s especially good to hear that we’ve reached above average numbers for the moisture-rich California snowpack.  A series of wet, wild and wonderful storms has brought us to 115 percent of average water content for this date, according to the California Department of Water Resources.   That’s good news, notes David Rizzardo, chief of snow surveys for the department.  But, he warns, we’re not yet out of danger for our water supply.

Reservoirs remain low and it’s expected to take another two months of above average precipitation to break the back of the state’s drought.  According to a story in the January 30 San Francisco Chronicle, Lake Oroville – a major source of drinking water for Northern California – remains only 33 percent full, which is about half of its normal content for this time of year.  The Sierra snowpack is the principal feedstock for Lake Oroville.

Rizzardo believes we will have to remain at about 120 percent of normal precipitation until April to break the drought.  Fortunately, this is an El Nino year, which is generally believed to bring more storms and greater moisture to California.  Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, it looks like a great year for winter sports in the Sierras.  So buy a set of chains and keep an eye on the weather.  There could be a lot more skiing, snowshoeing and sledding this winter, and a big improvement in California’s water supply this spring.

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