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Above-average California snowpack as Governor Newsom announces updated water plan

Sporting racquets and stylish glasses, Gov. Gavin Newsom toured a summit south of Lake Tahoe with state water officials Tuesday to unveil a “road map to resilience” for the the state’s unstable water supply and to confirm the good news of an army of sensors scattered everywhere. Sierra: California’s late-season snowfall is fortunately above normal.

April’s crucial figure stood at 110% of normal, state water officials said Tuesday – a harbinger of reliable water supplies in the coming summer months dry. Last year, the April snowpack was a staggering 244% of normal, but the previous three years’ snowpacks were all significantly below normal as California suffered from drought conditions.

This “weather whiplash” caused by climate change reminds us that there is no time to get greedy, Newsom said – even with many of California’s largest reservoirs teeming with higher water levels than usual, still providing good news on the water outlook. for 2024.

“You can take deep breaths this year, but don’t quadruple the time you spend in your shower,” Newsom warned Californians from Phillips Station near Echo Summit. “Consider that this time next year we may be in a different place.”

“Extremes are becoming the new reality, and this new reality requires a new approach,” the governor said, as he touted a five-year update to the California Water Plan, vowing that the Golden State would not sit idly by as “victims of destiny” in the face of the imminent climate crisis.

Newsom’s plan places new emphasis on a variety of new water sources, from major infrastructure projects like the controversial Delta Tunnels project to send water under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to ‘in Southern California and the Reservoir Sites, a $4.5 billion project in Colusa County. this would become the largest new reservoir in California in the past 50 years.

“We’re following them quickly in the new permitting regime that we’ve been promoting,” Newsom said.

(L-R) Karla Nemeth, Director of the California Department of Water Resources, Wade Crowfoot, Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, and Governor Gavin Newsom join the snow survey team for the fourth snow media survey of the 2024 season being held at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada. The survey took place in El Dorado County on April 2, 2024. (Andrew Nixon / California Department of Water Resources)

The plan also calls for restoring ecosystems to improve the resilience of “natural infrastructure,” such as aquifers and floodplains along rivers and streams. It also includes for the first time a chapter on Native American water management, which calls for state policies improving “the ability of tribes to access their sacred sites, protect their cultural resources, and support their water rights.” ‘water “.

Water experts say Newsom’s recently released water plan could provide a useful guide for local water agencies as they consider how to develop their projects, but it’s important not to overstate its importance. Most concrete actions in the construction of new projects take place at the local level.

Jay Lund, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis, said that even California’s biggest new initiative to expand its water supply — the planned construction of the Sites Reservoir — came from a local initiative, not from ‘a push from the State.

“(The state’s) fundamental mission is not to build huge (water) infrastructure,” Lund said. “Most of the water management is done locally, and I think they (the state) understand that. »

In this photo provided by Big Bear Mountain Resort, fresh snow covers the Big Bear Lake Ski Resort in California on Monday, April 1, 2024. The area has received two feet of new snow since Saturday and skiing is expected to continue until April.  (Lee Stockwell/Big Bear Mountain Resort via AP)
In this photo provided by Big Bear Mountain Resort, fresh snow covers the Big Bear Lake Ski Resort in California on Monday, April 1, 2024. The area has received two feet of new snow since Saturday and skiing is expected to continue until April. (Lee Stockwell/Big Bear Mountain Resort via AP)

Newsom highlighted climate change as a major challenge to the state’s ability to maintain a stable water supply throughout the year. One troubling development is that the altitude at which snow accumulates in the Sierra, known as the “snow line,” has increased by about 500 feet due to climate change, experts say. And a Bay Area News Group analysis last year found that the Sierra’s average snowpack has fallen several inches since the 1950s as the climate has warmed.

Even this year, while our total snowpack was above normal, our daily weather conditions were still very erratic, going from very dry conditions early in the season to a snow bonanza in March.

This year, the state hit the water jackpot. The above-average snowpack balance is a happy medium between too much snow, which can lead to flooding as the state’s frozen reservoir melts, and a lack of snow, which could plunge the state back into drought conditions.

Andy Reising, right, and Anthony Burdock, of the California Department of Water Resources' Water Supply Forecasting and Snow Surveys Unit, conduct the fourth media survey of snow for the 2024 season in Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada.  Gov. Gavin Newsom, center, and California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot observe the process.  The investigation is taking place about 90 miles east of Sacramento, off Highway 50, in El Dorado County.  Photo taken April 2, 2024. (Fred Greaves/California Department of Water Resources)
California Department of Water Resources water engineers Andy Reising, right, and Anthony Burdock, conduct the fourth snow media survey of the 2024 season at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada. Gov. Gavin Newsom, center, and California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot observe the process. The survey took place in El Dorado County on April 2, 2024. (Fred Greaves / California Department of Water Resources)

As for the future of California’s water supply, Michael Anderson, a climatologist with the California Department of Water Resources, said it’s still difficult to predict whether the state will see more accumulation this spring or if things were going to run out of steam from here.

The National Weather Service recently issued a snow advisory from 11 p.m. Wednesday through 11 p.m. Friday for the Sierra, as forecasts began to improve on new storms expected to dump several inches of new snow in many Sierra regions, according to the Sacramento National. Eric Kurth, weather service meteorologist.

“If people have weekend plans (in the Sierra), just be aware, even until 11 p.m. Friday, there could be chain checks and slow travel,” Kurth said.

Some areas near Interstate 80 South could get five to 10 inches of snowfall, and south of Highway 50 near Lake Tahoe, six to 12 inches, Kurth said. The generally cold temperatures forecast for the approaching storm system could mean snow showers appear even at lower elevations in the Sierra foothills.

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