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Declining Sierra Nevada snowpack levels potentially impacting state water supply

2020 is off to a dry start.

Posted: Feb 4, 2020 5:14 PM

BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. - 2020 is off to a dry start, and it could be threatening California's water supply.

"The snowpack this year is looking a lot less than what we usually see," said Action News Now meteorologist Bryan Ramsey.

He echoes findings by the state: Snowpack levels are lower this year, after a January with little rain.

"Overall, we are about 75% of where we should be. Unless we see some major atmospheric rivers, which we haven't seen, we could be seeing a below-average year for snowpack, and that could be detrimental to agriculture and fire season," said Ramsey. 

Cal Fire reps say they're monitoring the situation, now working on vegetation management projects in advance of the warmer months.

"We are getting ready to burn come springtime, several projects being worked on in Cohasset and upper Magalia. When the time comes, we'll be burning and doing a lot of preventative measures," said John Gaddie with Cal Fire. 

"For agriculture, the most important is the lake levels. Considering they are average right now, I think they can hold out for the rest of this year," said Ramsey. 

The Sierra Nevada snowpack provides 30% of the overall freshwater in California. The Department of Water Resources conducts the survey.

"Our water supply is doing ok, and we'd like to see it do better. But a couple of dry months is not going to have a major impact in CA. A couple of atmospheric rivers could change the whole thing around. One to two could bring us back up to average. We've just got to wait and see what the rest of the wet season brings us," said Chris Orrock, a spokesperson with the California Department of Water Resources. 

"Who knows, we could see more thunderstorms later in this season, which would help keep vegetation wetter than normal. But...we could also be looking at lightning-related fires, so something we’ll be looking at as well.," added Ramsey. 

With some two months left before the next snowpack survey, the wait is on for more rain.

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We began the first full week of August on a slightly cooler note with a lot of high clouds, haze and smoke for most parts of northern California. The high clouds will remain through much of Tuesday, with other changes coming soon.
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