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California heads for a third dry year in a row

By / January 30, 2009

Sunrise on the High Sierras -- last year, snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains was at 111 percent of normal. This year? Not so much.

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"It's imperative for Californians to conserve water immediately at home and in their businesses."

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That's the message California's Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow left Golden Staters on Jan. 29 as the state released its latest information on how much water this winter's snowpack holds.

It isn't pretty. The water content of the snow piled on the Sierra Nevada Mountains and elsewhere in the state sits at 61 percent of normal. The wet season has only two months left. "We may be at the start of the worst California drought in modern history," Mr. Snow said in a statement.

Even when the mountains see an above average snowpack, as they did last year, weather patterns during the following spring can leave as state high and dry. Last year, California experienced the driest spring on record, leading to the second dry "water year" in a row.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center offers little solace. It projects drought to persist or intensify across virtually all of California and much of Nevada through April. Similar conditions poke their heads into southeastern Oregon and western Utah.

Even in Washington state, which has seen a boatload of precipitation recently, the latest snow-water content levels are below normal at nine out of 11 federally managed sampling sites.

And California's major reservoirs? Lake Oroville holds only 43 percent of the water it normally stores at this time of year. Water sent to farms and cities from the Sacramento River Delta is also in short supply. Between dry conditions and environmental regulations, the Water Resources Department currently estimates that it will be able to send out only about 15 percent of the water people to farms and urban areas are requesting from the Delta via the State Water Project.

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