With more snow still falling, the Sierra Nevada Mountains snowpack that provides as much as 30% of the state’s water supplies when it melts is showing promise for the year ahead.
The state Department of Water Resources’ most recent snowpack survey, conducted on Jan. 31 near Lake Tahoe, recorded 50 inches of snow depth with a snow water equivalent of 18 inches, which represents 98% of the average for that site, department officials reported.
By comparison, the Feb. 1 measurement last year showed a snow water equivalent of only 2.6 inches, or 14% of the average.
Snow water equivalent is the depth of water that theoretically would result if the entire snowpack melted instantaneously. That measurement allows for a more accurate forecast of spring runoff, department officials said.
The Phillips Station Snow Survey measures the snowpack at an elevation of 6,800 feet, several miles west of Lake Tahoe.
Statewide, the snowpack is at 100% of average for this time of year, which is welcome news for water agencies that rely on State Water Project supplies, such as the Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency.
“The positive survey results bring with them the possibility of another significant increase to AVEK’s imported water allocation,” AVEK General Manager Dwayne Chisam said. “During wet years, when snowpack is favorable and water is abundant, we can take advantage of our water banks, storing water to increase our water supply reliability in the dry years. It is similar to having a savings account.”
Three providers are state water contractors in the Valley. In addition to AVEK, the Palmdale Water District and Littlerock Creek Irrigation District also receive water through the California Aqueduct.
AVEK, in turn, provides water to other providers, including Quartz Hill Water District and the Rosamond Community Services District.
“The water supply picture is looking pretty good,” Palmdale Water District General Manager Dennis LaMoreaux said.
In addition to the snow levels, Palmdale Water District’s supply includes the reservoir behind Littlerock Dam, which is within seven feet of spilling, LaMoreaux said Monday. With more rain predicted this week, it is likely to spill over this year.
With the so-far promising snowpack supply, state water contractors are hopeful to see the amount of water they may receive increase. At this point, it stands at 15% of their annual entitlements, up from 10% in December, according to the department.
“We are speculating the agency’s water allocation could soon rise to at least 35% of AVEK’s annual entitlement of 144,844 acre-feet, the amount of imported surface supplies AVEK can draw from the State Water Project when allocations reach 100%,” said Tom Barnes, AVEK’s Water Resource Manager. “If the allocation reaches 35%, that totals roughly 50,000 acre-feet for AVEK.”
An acre-foot is 325,850 gallons, or roughly the amount of water used annually by a single-family Antelope Valley household in the pre-drought years.
Allocations depend on the combined amount of snowpack water content that becomes the spring runoff and rainfall levels throughout the year, such as the Valley’s recent storms, AVEK officials said.
To date, AVEK has recharged approximately 139,000 acre-feet of water as part of its water banking efforts. With the current recoverable water storage supply of 78,400 acre-feet, it is close to being on par with their goal of having enough local water stored and available to meet the agency’s demand for three years.
The Department of Water Resources conducts five snow surveys each winter, near the first of January, February, March, April and May, at Phillips Station. The Phillips snow course is one of hundreds that will be surveyed manually throughout the winter. Manual measurements augment the electronic readings from about 100 snow pillows in the Sierra Nevada that provide a current snapshot of the water content in the snowpack, according to department officials.
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