The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) reported on May 2 that its Northern Sierra snowpack and water equivalent levels were 188 percent of average.
DWR conducted its fifth and final manual survey at Phillips Station near Sierra-Tahoe, recording a snow depth of 47 inches and a snow water equivalent (SWE) of 27.5 inches. The statewide average snowpack sits at 31 inches of SWE, which is 144 percent of average for this time of year.
The 2019 snowpack peaked on about March 31 and is the fifth largest on record, based on more than 250 manual snow surveys conducted each month. But there is a high probability for new snowfalls over the weekend and later next week.
California’s four northern reservoirs that include Trinity Lake, Lake Shasta, Lake Oroville and Folsom Lake are already at about 93 percent of capacity and rising fast. Hydrologists estimate the April through July snowpack melt and river runoff will be at 158 percent of normal this year.
All of this water should be excellent news to a state that suffered a series of droughts. But California has drastically under-invested in water infrastructure based on predictions that global climate temperature increase would cause the Sierra snowpack to permanently decline by between 48 to 65 percent.
The highly-questionable projections allowed former Gov. Jerry Brown to justify slashing billions of dollars in DWR maintenance funds. Despite campaigning for Californiavoters to approve the $7.5-billion Proposition 1 Water Bond in 2014 and $4-billion Prop 68 Water Bond in 2018, huge amounts of bond funds were siphoned off for environmental boondoggles and none has been spent on above-ground storage to address the state’s cycling between recurring droughts and floods.
The American Society of Civil Engineers awarded California its booby prize in each of the last 3 years as America’s worst state for infrastructure maintenance and improvements. ASCE gave its worst national grade of "D-" for California dams, waterways, and flood control system.
The lack of investment resulted in the 900-foot Oroville Dam almost collapsing during a series of early 2017 El Niño “Pineapple Express" storms that "walloped" the state with as much as five inches of warm rain in a single day. The costs to repair the dam’s main and emergency spillways passed $1.1 billion mark in February, with more work planned.
DWR chief of flood operations John Paasch previously advised, “Along with the water supply benefits of the heavy rain and snow, there is also increased flood risk.”
With the Oroville Dam water height level rising over a foot a day and just 15 feet from overflowing the dam again, DWR and the National Weather Service are closely monitoring weather, reservoir, river, and flood conditions to “help people and communities respond to flood events and stay safe.”