The California Department of Water Resources’ third snow survey for 2019 revealed snow depths and water content equaled the state’s all-time record level for February as new storms roll in.
DWR since 1929 has teamed with federal and private agencies to conduct the California Cooperative Snow Surveys at 395 locations throughout the Sierra Nevada and Shasta-Trinity mountains. The last day of February recording near the Sierra Tahoe Ski Resort revealed 113 inches of snow depth and dense snow water equivalent (SWE) of 43.5 inches, or about 153 percent average snow pack for February.
DWR chief climatologist Mike Anderson commented that several frigid atmospheric-river storms were driven down from the Gulf of Alaska last month, doubling the snow pack in the short month of February. DWR expects two new storms to hit over the next week.
A similar survey at the end of January 2019 recorded only 18 inches of snow water equivalent. But that was up from the severe drought levels in January 2018 when the snow depth was just 13.5 inches and the snow water equivalent was only 1.5 inches.
According to DWR Director Karla Nemeth, “This is shaping up to be an excellent water year.” But she added that the National Weather Service recently confirmed the Pacific Equatorial ocean is experiencing above-average sea surface temperatures consistent with a weak El Niño bringing California more precipitation over the next two months.
DWR Chief of Flood Operations John Paasch warned, “Along with the water supply benefits of the heavy rain and snow, there is also increased flood risk.” DWR and the National Weather Service are now closely monitoring weather, reservoir, river, and flood conditions to “help people and communities respond to flood events and stay safe.”
California voters approved the $7.5 billion Proposition 1 Water Bond in 2014 and the $4 billion Prop 68 Water Bond in 2018. Despite huge amounts of cash being siphoned off for environmental boondoggles, virtually no cash has been spent on above-ground storage to prevent cyclical flooding and bank water against the state’s cyclical droughts.
Newly inaugurated Gov. Gavin Newsom is under fire regarding the American Society of Civil Engineers awarding California its booby prize in each of the last three years as the worst state in the nation for infrastructure maintenance and improvements. ASCE gave California its worst grade of “D-“ for dams, waterways, and flood control.
California hoped to receive $2 billion in federal reimbursement for the near collapse of Oroville Dam and $7 billion from 2017 wildfires. But President Trump is threatening to withhold payments due to the state’s irresponsibly low levels of infrastructure spending. The issue metastasized recently when the President demanded $2 billion in principal, plus interest, for squandering federal funds on the state’s canceled “high-speed-rail.”
DWR is warning that the state’s 6 largest reservoirs currently hold between 87 percent (Oroville) and 137 percent (Melones) of their historical averages for this date. Lake Shasta, California’s largest surface reservoir, is 117 percent of its historical average.
The El Niño storms could bring the dreaded “Pineapple Express” that can “wallop” California with as much as five inches of warm rain in single day. Warm winds can spark a rapid snowmelt, flooding billions of gallons of waters toward low-lying communities.