Hopeful. That’s the word Jeff Anderson, who’s responsible for measuring snowpack in the Sierra Nevada for the federal government, describes the outlook for this year’s water season.
“We’re not even half way through the winter yet, so things could go any which direction from here,” said Anderson, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “But we’ve certainly had a great start. That’s big.”
This month’s Nevada Water Supply Outlook Report issued by the Natural Resources Conservation Service reveals that snowpack in the Truckee River basin is above normal at 113 percent of average for Jan. 1. Last year, the amount was 64 percent of average. Precipitation in December was above average at 118 percent.
The outlook is even better for the Lake Tahoe basin, with snowpack measured at 154 percent of normal and December precipitation much above average at 151 percent. Snowpack last year was measured at 45 percent of normal.
Based on past years, the month of January could be critical in determining if Reno-Sparks area, which depends on mountain snowpack for Truckee River flows and upstream reservoir storage, will start to emerge from four years of drought. The month was exceptionally dry in the past few years.
“I think the real key for us this year is if we can finally have a January that has normal precipitation. Historically it’s our biggest water supply month of the year,” Anderson said in an interview with the Sparks Tribune.
“If we can keep this pattern of having weekly storms, that’s going to go a long way towards helping us get close to a normal snowpack for this winter–hopefully a much higher than normal snowpack.”
The water supply outlook report warns that a strong start doesn’t mean a strong finish. “Hopefully El Nino wins the fight with the ridge of high pressure that plagued Nevada the past few winters and the snow keeps falling,” the report says.
Anderson also said one strong winter will not erase four years of drought because the deficits are so big.
“It certainly could get us on the right path headed out of the drought,” he said, adding that eliminating all of the drought’s effects in one year is “probably hoping for more than what’s happened in the past.”
The problem rests with upstream reservoirs, which have some of the lowest water levels on record. It will take more than one good snow year to fill them up with useable storage water.
Lake Tahoe is 1.39 feet below its natural rim, according to the water report, while Stampede Reservoir is storing 12 percent of its capacity, the lowest since 1969 following the completion of the dam.