California Snowpack Above Average, But State Officials Warn Of Weather Whiplash

California’s snowpack is above average, officials confirmed Tuesday, and that’s good news for the water supply for millions of homes and the state’s massive economy, including agriculture.

State officials said the snowpack at an official measuring spot south of Lake Tahoe was 5 feet, 4 inches deep, which is 113% above the average for past years — with 2023 being an exception.

“That snowpack will turn into water to provide drinking water for upwards of 40 million Californians, the lifeblood of our agriculture sector and our economy,” said California’s Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot.

In April of last year, the snowpack was nearly twice as deep. But Crowfoot warned against seeing recent healthy snowpacks as a trend.

How we got here

“The water year that ended just 16 months ago ended the driest three-year period in the state’s history. We had 6 million Californians under water rationing and we were planning for a whole lot more in the preceding year,” he said.

Months later, atmospheric rivers dumped a lot of rain. Then in February, officials warned that our snowpack may not reach expected levels.

California officials use the peak snow measurement, when the snowpack is usually the deepest before it starts to melt in the spring, to underline various water management strategies they say will soften the blow of our weather whiplash.

What’s in the California water plan

California’s water plan is updated every five years. The most recent plan was released on Tuesday and includes input from environmental, business, tribal, and local governments.

“We are not victims of fate,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom at the snowpack measurement site. “We recognize the world we’re living in, we recognize the trend lines into the future, and we’re navigating them.”

He pointed to state strategies to improve water management, be it through the natural environment like watersheds, or spending $9 billion in the last year-and-a-half on infrastructure, such as dams.

Highlights from the plan:

  • Infrastructure improvement needs to take into account natural watershed elements like rivers
  • Increased fires from climate change are making water management more difficult
  • Communication with state tribes is important to glean watershed knowledge and to hear how water management policy changes affect those nations

Newsom highlighted the massive Delta Conveyance Project, an ongoing project to capture more water in the river system between Sacramento and San Francisco.

What tribes can teach California about water management

Officials putting together the water plan also convened a tribal advisory committee to hear how ancestral water management knowledge can be used by the state’s agencies. Tribal members shared knowledge about how to use controlled burns and how to restore meadows.

According to the plan, tribes have been limited in the way they control and access water, which has constrained practices that are cultural, spiritual, and sustainable. The aim of including tribal input is to support their sovereignty, and socio-economic stability, officials said.

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