State to measure snowpack, recalculate water allocation

John King, water resource engineer, of the California Department of Water Resources, Snow Survey Section, conducts the second snow survey of the 2019 season at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. photo courtesy DWR.
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Local water planners told last month the SCV is getting 10% of the state water allocated to them are now hoping state officials find lots of snow Thursday when they go looking for it.

On Thursday, officials with the California Department of Water Resources are scheduled to conduct the first snow survey of the season.

Department staffers issued a news release on the first day of the new year announcing they will be measuring water content in the snowpack, a key indicator for water supply. 

The annual expedition which enables state water officials to calculate how much water they can send to communities in Southern California takes place at the Phillips Station near the intersection of Highway 50 and Sierra-at-Tahoe Road.

Sean de Guzman, chief of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section, is expected to carry out the snow survey and respond to questions from the media, along with Dr. Michael Anderson, DWR’s State Climatologist. 

The Phillips Station snow course is one of more than 260 snow courses across the Sierra Nevada that DWR manually or electronically measures each winter and early spring

About a month ago, the DWR unveiled an initial State Water Project allocation of 10% for the 2020 calendar year.

The initial allocation was based on several factors, they said, such as conservative dry hydrology, reservoir storage, and releases necessary to meet water supply and environmental demands.

On Dec. 9, DWR officials announced that state water agencies — such as SCV Water — contracted to receive water from Northern California would be receiving only a fraction of what they normally expect.

State allocations are based on conservative assumptions and may change, they said last month, depending on rain and snow received this winter.

The SWP provides water to 29 SWP contractors that supply water to more than 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland.

“We are thankful for the recent rains and the start of the new water year with above-average reservoir storage, but the dry start in October and November reminds us that California’s weather is extremely variable and we must prepare for various conditions,” DWR Director Karla Nemeth was quoted as saying last month. “The wet weather can stop from one day to the next.”

In the Santa Clarita Valley, the rain has stopped until at least the end of next week, weather officials said.

The storms that passed through the SCV in November deposited between 4.5 and 5.25 inches of rain.

The rain recharges SCV’s groundwater, which counts for about half the water consumed locally. The other half comes from melting snow packs in the Sierra Nevadas and is delivered by the State Water Project.

“The new water year started in October and so far the news is good,” Dirk Marks, the SCV Water agency’s water resource manager said in December. “We received above average precipitation in November, both locally and statewide.” 

“But it’s really too early to know if it will continue,” he said. “Most of California’s rain comes in December, January and February.”

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