Low snowpack and reservoir levels signal alarm for SCV Water Agency

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By Jim Holt 

Senior Investigative Reporter 

The Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency, concerned about drought, put a plan in place for a not-so-rainy day, when state water officials went looking for water in melted snow and found only a little. 

That day arrived Tuesday when engineers with the Department of Water Resources, measuring poles in hand, went looking for snow in the Sierra Nevadas to measure how deep it was and then figure out how much water would be produced. 

They found only 68% of the snow they normally find. 

“SCV Water has been anticipating a dry year and had already adjusted our water resources to reflect little to no water supply from the State Water Project,” said SCV Water spokeswoman Kathie Martin, referring to the contract SCV Water has with the state for Northern California water. 

Local water officials also planned on the people of Santa Clarita to help out by conserving water. 

“For SCV Water customers, we ask that they continue to implement water-saving practices such as using a broom rather than water to clean driveways and sidewalks, and help us meet the state goal of a 15% reduction in use over 2020,” Martin said. 

As they do every year, state water officials carried out their third snow survey of the season at Phillips Station. 

Following a January and February that they say will enter records as the driest documented in state history, they recorded 35 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 16 inches, which is 68% of average for this location for March. 

The snow water equivalent measures the amount of water contained in the snowpack and is a key component of DWR’s water supply forecast. Statewide, the snowpack is 63% of average for this date. 

This is as wet as it’s likely to get, state water officials said. 

“With only one month left in California’s wet season and no major storms in the forecast, Californians should plan for a third year of drought conditions,” DWR Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth was quoted as saying in a press release issued Tuesday. 

“A significantly below-average snowpack combined with already low reservoir levels make it critical that all Californians step up and conserve water every day to help the state meet the challenges of severe drought,” she said. 

On a normal day in a normal year, a glass of water poured from any tap in the Santa Clarita Valley contains equal portions of water pumped from local wells and water imported from melting snowpacks in the Sierra Nevadas. 

In times of drought, local water officials adjust that water ratio. 

Although early-season storms helped alleviate some drought impacts, a lack of storms in January and February heightens the need for conservation — not just in the SCV but across the state. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked all Californians to cut back water use at least 15% compared to 2020 levels. 

Regionally, the Northern, Central, and Southern Sierra snowpacks are all standing just above 59% to 66% of average for this date, impacting watersheds across the state. 

Snowpack Testers 
Snowpack testers use a long pole to poke into the snow. 

When they went to the Sierra Nevadas in 2019, they found a snowpack that was deep. 

That winter was cold, wet and, in some places, snowy, thanks to back-to-back storms that left a snowpack deep enough to provide ample water for the Santa Clarita Valley. 

In February 2019, they recorded 50 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 18 inches, which is 98% of average for this location. Statewide, the Sierra snowpack was 100% of average. 

Not so the year prior. 

In February 2018, measurements revealed a snow water equivalent of 2.6 inches, only 14% of the early-February average. 

Martin said SCV Water has “more tips, resources and rebate opportunities,” for anyone wanting to do more with less water. They’re advised to visit DroughtReadySCV.com. 

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