Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada should be at its peak this time of year. But the water content for the snow is just 32-percent of average. Frank Gehrke with the California Department of Water Resources says the recent snow can be deceptive.
“It’s very unlikely that we’ll get anything after this. It’s certainly not the improvement that would have been needed to get anywhere close to reasonable conditions for water supply next spring and summer,” says Gehrke.
Snowmelt is carried through rivers and reservoirs and delivered south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta through the state and federal water projects. DWR Director Mark Cowin says recent precipitation hasn’t ended the drought. But it will provide some temporary relief. He says the department will quadruple the amount of water it pumps south for at least a week.
“The adjustment will remain in effect as long as the rivers carrying storm water into the Delta continue to run relatively high," says Cowin.
Kate Poole, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, says the move violates the agencies’ obligation to protect threatened and endangered fish. She says there are reasons pumping levels should be low this time of year.
“By ignoring those requirements and ramping up pumping right now what the agencies are doing is pulling those salmon and steelhead off their migratory path and into the pumps where they die,” says Poole.The National Marine Fisheries Service says the change will still protect migrating steelhead and other fish. It says the adjustments are based on sound science.
January brought above-average rainfall and snow to much of California, partly due to El Niño. But forecasters say the ocean warming condition is "taking a break" for the next week or longer.
The U.S. Drought Monitor says, other than a slight reduction in exceptional drought in the northern Sierra, it needs more time to assess impacts of the recent moisture on California's long-term drought.
California regulators have made modest adjustments to water conservation requirements for cities.
The second measurement this winter of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada was 130 percent of average. State water officials say the snowpack will help reservoir recovery.
California's water conservation rate dropped to 18 percent in December. But water regulators say the state continues to meet its long term goals.