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State Water Officials: Sierra Snowpack 'A California Water Supply Dream'

TRUCKEE (CBS SF) -- A series of February storms dumped historic levels of snow in the Sierra, burying some mountainous areas under hundreds of inches and leading to a "water supply dream," according to state water officials.

On Tuesday, state officials staged their monthly snowpack measurement at Phillips Station high in the Sierra and confirmed what forecasters have been saying for weeks -- there will be no lack of water this year.

"With full reservoirs and a dense snowpack, this year is practically a California water supply dream," said DWR Director Karla Nemeth.

At Phillips Station, officials recorded 106.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 51 inches, which is 200 percent of average for the location. Statewide, the Sierra Nevada snowpack is 162 percent of average.

Water officials said California has experienced more than 30 atmospheric rivers since the start of the water year, with six in February alone, and statewide snow water equivalent has nearly tripled since February 1.

Snowpack is an important factor in determining how water officials manage California's resources each year to meet demands. On average, the Sierra snowpack supplies about 30 percent of California's water needs as it melts into streams and reservoirs in the spring and early summer.

The snowpack's water content typically peaks around April 1, after which the sun's higher position in the sky begins to accelerate snow melt. While the April 1 snowpack data is good news for water supply, state officials warn there could be flooding risks later this spring.

"With great water supply benefits comes some risk," said Jon Ericson, DWR Chief of the Division of Flood Management. "Based on snowpack numbers, we have the potential for some minor flooding due to melting snow so we remind folks to always stay vigilant and aware."

The state's largest six reservoirs currently hold between 106 percent (Oroville) and 132 percent (Melones) of their historical averages for this date. Lake Shasta, California's largest surface reservoir, is 109 percent of its historical average and sits at 89 percent of capacity.

State water officials conduct up to five snow surveys each winter – near the first of January, February, March, April and, if necessary, May – at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada just off Highway 50 near Sierra-at-Tahoe.

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