Snow Survey Reveals Less Water for Hydro Power

Apr 2, 2013 7:56 PM

At the start of 2013 snow levels were high above normal, but in the three months since, storms have been few and far between. What snow is remaining has already started to melt. This not only affects state water supply, it also creates a problem for hydroelectric power producers like PG&E.

The start of April is traditionally the time of year where there's the most snow on the ground. It's still falling and has not yet started to melt, but with a snow survey taken by PG&E Tuesday, the situation looks bleak.

High in the Cascade Mountains in an area only accessible by snowshoe and helicopter, a snow survey is being conducted.

“We had a very wet November and December and that put us well ahead, but a very dry January through March eroded that lead and put us below average,” said PG&E Spokesman Paul Moreno.

PG&E samples snow throughout the cascade region 5 times a year to determine how much water they'll have for hydro power generation.

Crews remove snow samples, take measurements, and determine how much water is in the snow.

“The weight of the snow in ounces tells you how many ounces are in that profile,” said Tony Orozco of PG&E.

On the first sample, 18 inches of snow holds just 10 ounces of water.

The snow survey is useful in determining how much water content is in the snow but you don’t have to look far to see there is not a lot of snow left. Some areas are completely melted and have streams running through.

“If you actually go out and look at the snow depth, it is less than half about 49% of average throughout the state,” said Moreno.

That figure is scary, but the situation is not as dire as it sounds. The snow just melted early this year, PG&E says its watershed is actually at about 81 % of normal.

“We are managing our water supply very carefully so that at the start of summer our reservoirs are going to be very full and we will have hydroelectric power available this summer to help us meet those peak demand periods,” said Moreno.

It’s important to the average person to have enough water in the cascade region, if PG&E can't produce enough hydro power, they are forced to buy it at higher rates.


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