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Meager Sierra snow worries California water managers

  • Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the Department of Water Resources, reads the total weight of the snow samples to DWR's Elizabeth Scott during the snow survey near Echo Summit Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012. Despite recent storms the survey showed the snow pack to to only 15.6 inches deep with a water content of only 3.8 inches which is only 19 percent of normal for this location at this time of the year.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

ECHO SUMMIT — California's Sierra Nevada snowpack measured a meager 15 inches in some places, officials announced Wednesday, bearing bad news to a state that depends on snowmelt to meet the water needs of 25 million people and more than a million acres of farmland.

Resorts are suffering as skiers turn up their noses at manmade snow, especially after last year's prolific powder. And paltry snow means big worries this summer for farmers in the state's Central Valley who depend on snowmelt delivered through aqueducts to irrigate the most prolific agricultural region in the nation.

The arid great valley provides most of the nation's table grapes and 80 percent of the world's almonds, in addition to 400 other crops. The movement from annual crops like tomatoes and broccoli to permanent crops like tree nuts and grapes has farmers struggling in drought years to keep them alive.

Electronic measurements taken this week estimate the statewide snowpack at 37 percent of normal for this time of year and 23 percent of the average reading on April 1, when the spring thaw starts. The 15 inches of snow measured at Echo Summit near South Lake Tahoe contained just 3.8 inches of water and bode ill for next year's water deliveries.

The worrisome measurement also is "a little misleading, because we only got most of the snow in the last few days and a couple of inches last night," said Frank Tehrke, chief of snow survey for the California Department of Water Resources. "It's not encouraging for our reservoirs this summer."


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