Weekend’s Massive Weather System Brings Hope and Worry for California’s Water Supply

California’s snowpack provides about a third of the state’s water supply. While one may be comforted by reports of the snow surveys done earlier this week, which showed statewide snowpack levels at 70% of average, worries are now setting in about the upcoming weekend storm. The relatively warm rainfall coming in will likely melt away some of the fresh snow that accumulated during the cooler storm that passed through the Sierras this past Tuesday and Wednesday.

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, plunges the survey tube into the snowpack as he conducts the first snow survey of the season at Phillips Station Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, near Echo Summit, Calif. The survey showed the snowpack at 53 percent of normal for this site at this time of year.  (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, plunges the survey tube into the snowpack as he conducts the first snow survey of the season at Phillips Station Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, near Echo Summit, Calif. The survey showed the snowpack at 53 percent of normal for this site at this time of year. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

While storm events are needed to continue combatting the state’s ongoing drought, the weather system moving into northern California this Saturday will come with potential flooding. Resulting rainfall and river flows may reach totals that have not been seen in more than a decade in some parts of the state. This will impact reservoirs, where some have already reached or are approaching capacity. Lake Shasta, for example, was at 118% of capacity as of Tuesday. Reaching flood-release levels, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has recently started discharging water from Lake Shasta and other reservoirs at a similar stage. Other concerns include falling trees, power outages, and debris flows in areas burned by recent wildfires.

So, will we be entering a sixth year of drought? It is still soon to tell. While snowpack is an important indicator of California’s hydrological health, officials with the Department of Water Resources say that other factors such as reservoir levels, groundwater, and average annual rainfall are also important. In any case, climatologists agree that more storm events are needed across the state if we are to have a fighting chance.

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