FRESNO (AP) – California drought surveyors will trudge through deep snow Wednesday to manually measure what could be close to a normal Sierra Nevada snowpack for this time of year, a key indicator of the state’s water condition.
A year ago, Gov. Jerry Brown stood on the same spot – then a dusty patch of ground with no snow – to announce that the dire drought required residents to cut back water use by 25 percent.READ MORE: 430-Foot Asteroid Expected To Pass By Earth On Monday
Statewide, the snowpack was then at 5 percent, marking a record low.
An El Nino weather system has delivered considerably more wet weather this year – mostly in Northern California – but not enough to end the drought, said Doug Carlson, a state Department of Water Resources spokesman.
“The hope had been that we might be able to ride on the back of El Nino and receive an awful lot of precipitation,” Carlson said. “We haven’t seen that above-average situation play out.”
The survey sets the stage for tough decisions to come.
Regulators say relaxing water restrictions is possible in wet areas, such as the northern part of state, but unlikely in the south, which has been relatively dry.
Northern California has seen the most rain and snow, lifting the state’s three largest reservoirs to above-normal levels and bringing the snowpack to nearly average depth. But electronic monitors stationed throughout the Sierra Nevada reveal that the snowpack’s water content is at 87 percent of normal statewide.
Little rain and snow has hit Southern California, leaving most of its reservoirs low, and it will take years to replenish the overdrawn groundwater that has seen the state through four years of drought.READ MORE: Multiple Millionaires Made In California On Thanksgiving Weekend; One In Sacramento
“We’re looking at a long-term recovery and not a one-shot wonder,” Carlson said.
Still, state water board officials expect to soon reopen a discussion of Brown’s conservation order, spokesman George Kostyrko said.
California’s snowpack typically is at its deepest on April 1, then the snow melts through the warm months, rushing down streams and rivers into lakes and reservoirs, providing roughly one-third of the state’s water. The melted snow goes to farms in the nation’s leading agricultural and most populous state.
Last year, surveyors performed the final snowpack survey of the wet season on April 1. This year, officials say that the improved conditions may send them back to the mountains in early May to measure the snow for insight into how much runoff to expect.
Officials at the State Water Resources Control Board have said they may relax or even set aside strict conservation requirements, depending on how much rain and snow has fallen.
Strong El Nino storms in early March have some water districts questioning whether a drought emergency still exists and if residents should still be required to take shorter showers and let their lawns turn brown.
Leaders of local water districts say the state needs to save the emergency declaration for the true emergencies, fearing they will lose credibility with the public the next time drought hits and they are asked to conserve.MORE NEWS: CHP Investigating Deadly Crash Involving Sac Metro Fire Ambulance, Another Drive And Pedestrian
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.