News | April 1, 2014

Near Record-Low California Snowpack Measurement Warns Of Greater Water Supply Challenges Ahead

21st Century Water Solutions Crucial to Build New, Resilient Water Supply Sources

Critically low California snowpack measurement was reported recently by the state’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) in its annual April snow survey, revealing the snowpack measurement is at its lowest since 1988 – the fifth lowest reading since snowpack record-keeping began in 1930. With severe to exceptional drought conditions already crippling more than 95 percent of the state, the latest snowpack results serve as a dismal signal of how little water will flow into California streams and rivers that normally replenish the state’s reservoirs in advance of dry summer and fall months. The snowpack – often called California’s largest reservoir – normally provides about one-third of the water used by the state’s cities and farms.

Natural Resources Defense Council Water Program Director Steve Fleischli made the following statement:

“Recent snow and rains have made only a small dent in California's historic drought, meaning we’re headed into summer with far less snowmelt available than normal. For far too long Californians have used more water than we can sustain and done so in ways that are not as efficient as we could. This system of too little supply and too much demand is finally catching up with us.

“And as climate change becomes the "new normal," our water woes will only get worse. We need to rethink projects that cost billions, take years to build and aren't going to help anytime soon. This drought is a critical opportunity for our leaders to step up and invest in what works: strategies that improve water efficiency and tap underused local supplies.”

Climate scientists warn less winter snowpack should continue to be expected because of climate change, with the following projections:

  • By 2050, California snowpack is projected to decline by 25 to 40 percent compared to historical averages.
  • By 2100, estimated reductions of 50 to more than 75 percent are expected for April 1 snowpack.
  • New research indicates the state is likely to see 5 to 10 fewer days of precipitation each year.
  • Warmer temperatures from climate change also are expected to change streamflow patterns by causing peak runoff to occur earlier in the year.

While California should plan on getting less water than in the past from snowpack, the opportunities for smarter water use are only growing. Urban and agricultural water efficiency, water recycling, better groundwater management, and stormwater capture are becoming California’s most promising drought-resistant water supplies. Investments in water conservation and local water supplies have consistently been far more cost-effective and less environmentally damaging than investments in new, large reservoir projects in the state.

For more information on California snowpack and the drought, please see:

  • NRDC’s Snowpack Fact Sheet: http://www.nrdc.org/water/ca-snowpack-and-drought.asp
  • Doug Obegi’s blog on 21st-Century water solutions: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/dobegi/doing_the_math_on_california_w.html
  • Ben Chou’s blog post on dwindling snowpack: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/bchou/dwindling_california_snowpack.html
  • Recent Poll: Nearly 75% of California Voters Choose Improving Local Water Supplies as Top Solution to Drought : http://www.nrdc.org/media/2014/140225.asp

About The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. For more information, visit www.nrdc.org.

SOURCE: The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

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