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Sierra snowpack survey shows water supply potential improving after slow start to rainy season

Truckee residents preparing for snow storm
Truckee residents preparing for snow storm 02:00

The latest statewide snow survey shows California's water supply potential continues to improve after a slow, dry start to the rainy season, according to officials with the state's Department of Water Resources.

After conducting the season's third Sierra Nevada snowpack survey Thursday, DWR officials announced that the "water equivalent," how much water is in the snowpack, is 80 percent of average for this time of year.

That's a big improvement from the last survey, taken in January, when it was just 28 percent of average.

"The results today show just how critical this upcoming month is going to be in terms of our water supply outlook for the upcoming year," said state hydrometeorologist Angelique Fabbiani-Leon.

"While we're in a much better position today than we were a month or two ago, the snowpack is only at 70 percent of average for the April 1 peak," Fabbiani-Leon said.

April 1 is considered the peak snowpack measurement date and the start of the spring runoff.

"It will take several additional storms within the month of March to really get us from the current 70 percent of April 1 average up to 100 percent of average by the 1st of April," she said.

Overall, the total precipitation amounts -- rain and snow -- for the state are running at 103 percent of average for Feb. 29 and California's major reservoirs are currently at 119 percent of average, according to DWR.

Still, despite the improved numbers and the massive multi-day snowstorm currently descending on the Sierra Nevada, the state could end up with below-average totals if additional storms don't materialize.

"California has seen several extreme climate events so far this water year, including record rainfall in Southern California," said state climatologist Michael Anderson. "While this pushed statewide precipitation above average, the snowpack still has not caught up from the dry conditions earlier this winter and local conditions still vary significantly from region to region."

Last week, DWR released an early water delivery estimate from the State Water Project of just 15% of requested amounts for the 29 public agencies serving 27 million people across the state.

Water managers are hoping that number will increase as the most recent storms are taken into account. The next, possibly final, snow survey of the year is tentatively scheduled for April 2.

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