With heavy snowfall blanketing much of the northeastern United States on Friday, snowpack surveyors with the California Department of Water Resources found a starkly different situation in the normally snow-filled Sierra Mountains — more bare ground than snow.
The department released the results of its initial snow survey Friday, and the statewide snowpack’s water content was approximately 20 percent of the average of the annual survey, according to a department news release.
If the dry conditions continue, the snowpack would be 7 percent of the average for the April 1 survey. That’s usually the peak before it melts, supplying one third of the state’s water resources, according to the news release.
In a statement, Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin urged residents to conserve water this year.
“While we hope conditions improve, we are fully mobilized to streamline water transfers and take every action possible to ease the effects of dry weather on farms, homes and businesses as we face a possible third consecutive dry year,” Cowin said. “And every Californian can help by making water conservation a daily habit.”
The 20 percent reading mirrors the result of 2012’s initial survey, and both set records for driest survey, according to the news release.
Accordingly, the department is currently estimating that it can meet only 5 percent of the approximately 4 million acre feet of water requests through the State Water Project, although that estimate can be subject to revision depending on rain and snowfall.
For Napa County jurisdictions, the situation isn’t grim — yet. City of Napa water managers say that municipal water supplies will be in good shape for 2014, as the city’s largest reservoir, Lake Hennessey, remains full, at 70 percent capacity. It also has Milliken Reservoir.
Coupled with expected deliveries from the State Water Project — Napa has claim to carry-over supplies from years past — the city will have enough water for two years.
American Canyon receives its water supplies from the State Water Project through the North Bay Aqueduct, but Public Works Director Jason Holley cautioned against being overly concerned by the initial survey results.
The city used about 3,600 acre feet of water in 2013 and expects to use a similar amount this year, Holley said. It’s total request for water is 5,200 acre feet, and if it receives 5 percent of that it get 260 acre feet, he said.
But the city also has about 1,200 acre feet in carry-over water and another 500 acre feet it will receive as part of an agreement with the city of Vallejo, providing almost 2,000 acre feet this year.
The city can also purchase water through established marketplaces, Holley said, which may be an option it decides to pursue. Holley said an update is due to the City Council later this month.
Hopefully the water allocation increases with more rain and snow, Holley said. It’s far too early to say if any mandatory conservation measures will be needed this year, he added.
“That number, we think, will hopefully go up,” Holley said. “We expect we’ll be active in our supply.”
St. Helena has a water contract with the city of Napa, and relies on the Bell Canyon Reservoir to meet demand. The reservoir was 44 percent full in early December, while the city of Napa has said it can meet its water contract with St. Helena this year.
The city of Calistoga relies on State Water Project water but also has its own municipally controlled reservoir, which is held by Kimball Dam. Yountville has Rector Reservoir and an agreement with the California Department of Veterans Affairs for water supplies, according to the town. It will buy water from the city of Napa in an emergency.
Holley said he hopes for a turn-around in the water season before the situation worsens.
“At this point we’re concerned about the situation,” Holley said. “We’re not losing any sleep over it. It’s early in the water season.”