California Snowpack and the Drought

March 31, 2014

Snowpack, vital to California's water supply, has long replenished the state’s reservoirs naturally in advance of the dry summer and fall months. Snowpack normally provides one-third of the water used by California’s cities and farms each year. But if drought conditions persist, this year’s April snowpack measurements could be among the lowest since state snow surveys began in 1930. The April 1 snow survey is critical because these measurements generally represent when snowpack is supposed to be at its peak, and readings in the lead-up to April 1 have been exceptionally low.

While this year’s extremely low snowpack is due to the drought, warmer temperatures from climate change are expected to dramatically reduce April snowpack in the future, jeopardizing water supplies for California’s dry summer and fall months for the long term. While there’s no single solution to ensuring an adequate water supply, California needs to prepare for water uncertainty by investing in what works: a sensible suite of proven strategies that improve water efficiency and tap underused local supplies. By rethinking expensive new surface water reservoirs and outdated longdistance delivery systems, and instead embracing cost-effective, sustainable water management measures that build local self-reliance, California can build resilient water supplies for decades to come.