Lowest snow pack ever measured in Sierra Nevada

The latest snow survey could more accurately be labeled the dry-land survey.  A site at 6,800 feet in the mountains had no snow at all for the first time since the California Department of Water Resources first did the survey in 1950.  From north to south in the Sierra Nevada Mountains the snow pack is the smallest ever measured.

March 30, 2015 - Graphic of snowpack since 1950

March 30, 2015 – Graphic of snowpack since 1950

One thing that is striking about the above graphic is that big years are what has lulled Californians (and Nevadans) to think our reservoirs and groundwater pumping is just fine – thank you very much.  In our short history we have seen time and again a wet winter to come just in time to offset a run of dry ones.  Whew!

But what if the wet ones stop coming?  Then what.  We are getting a look at just such a scenario now with a 6% of average snowpack following on 3 very, very dry ones. Few ever thought such a situation was in the cards.

With so much water going to human uses from agriculture to cities to industry, the natural environment – our rivers and lakes – take a much bigger hit in droughts.  Much of the replenishment of our natural systems can only occur in exceptionally wet years.  The rest of the time – even in average flow years – the environment experiences an artificial drought as water that normally would fill rivers and lakes instead fills reservoirs and canals and partially recharges depleted groundwater systems.

Stranded fish when Truckee River flows are diverted

Stranded fish when Truckee River flows are diverted to farms – historic photo from UNR Knowledge Center display

Changing our historic over-use of water will be painful – if we choose to take up the challenge of preserving our rivers and lakes.

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About Dennis Ghiglieri

My concern for the Truckee River grew over the years. It started with picking up trash and supporting better water quality. I helped create the "living river"plan with other citizens on the Community Flood Coalition; a plan to reduce flood impacts to infrastructure through river restoration and protection of the floodplain. I understand how critical the Truckee River is to the environment – and economy – of our entire region. I'm hoping that through these pages we can all understand our connection to the Truckee River and why we need to protect it.

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