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California Wants To Aim Lasers At Snowpack To Better Predict Runoff

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Lawmakers are considering spending $150 million to fund new high-tech measurements of the snowpack using lasers.

A pilot program with NASA has been in place for several years and results show lasers record snowpack measurements with near perfect accuracy.

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Up until now, California has measured the snowpack manually, with experts physically sinking a metal pole into the snow at various monitoring locations.

Snow survey expert Frank Gehrke has been doing the manual measurements for thirty years and says the manual approach has resulted in measurements that are up to 60 percent incorrect.

"It could range from inaccuracies of 20 to 40 to 60 percent of basically not being correct," Gehrke said.

The new hi-tech approach is meant to help water managers know exactly how much water they can expect in water runoff from the snowpack – and when that runoff will arrive in reservoirs, rivers, and streams.

Officials say data collected is nearly perfect.

"We can pretty much guarantee the water manager that he's going to get within a few percent," Gehrke said.

California is proposing funding the technology for the next decade to record the entire Sierra Nevada mountain range and Trinity Alps.

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