California's spring snowpack is worst in quarter-century

Officials release new data forecasting continued water shortage, as statewide drought conditions not likely to improve

A few late-season snow and rain storms that doused parched California were not enough to pull the state out of a historic drought, new data revealed on Tuesday.

The California Department of Water Resources measured the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains and reported a dismal 32 percent of average water content for April 1, a milestone date and annual ritual that prefaces the spring melt. While in the state’s northern mountains, snowpack water content is at only 23 percent of normal.

“We’re already seeing farmland fallowed and cities scrambling for water supplies,” said the department’s director, Mark Cowin. “We can hope that conditions improve, but time is running out and conservation is the only tool we have against nature’s whim.”

At the beginning of April, the snowpack is normally at its peak before melting into streams and reservoirs. 

Snowpack is often referred to as California’s largest reservoir because it provides a third of the water used by farms and cities. It is now at its lowest level since 1988 and the fifth lowest level since record keeping began in 1930.

Meanwhile, more than 95 percent of the state remains in a historic drought. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of drought emergency on Jan. 17 and several municipalities are imposing mandatory restriction, including no watering of lawns or washing of cars.

“And as climate change becomes the ‘new normal,’ our water woes will only get worse,” said Steve Fleischli, water program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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