Snowpack in California: A Ticking Time Bomb of Water Overflow
California’s soaked winter might be over, but the melting of its snowpack is just starting, posing a flood threat. With most of the state’s snowpack still intact, more snow is expected to melt this week.
Daniel Swain, a climate scientist from UCLA, said that the height of the snowmelt may still be a few weeks later, even with temperatures rising this May.
The state’s snowpack is now at 254% on average. This data creates concern, especially in the San Joaquin Valley.
The Department of Water Resources (DWR) run its fifth snow survey for the year. It revealed snow water at 49.2 inches. The team held the survey at Philips Station, marking the first time measurable snow was at the location since 2020.
#CA’s current #snowpack is still among the highest on record even though the spring snowmelt has begun. The last time there was snow to measure in May at the Phillips Station snow course was in 2020 & then only 1.5 inches of snow was measured w/ just half an inch of water content pic.twitter.com/RnUjwZVOxD
— CA – DWR (@CA_DWR) May 1, 2023
Sean de Guzman, manager of DWR for snow surveys, confirmed that 2023’s results are the highest in record history. The southern part of the Sierra Nevada snowpack measured 326% on average.
This eases existing drought conditions and improves the water supply. However, it also increases flood risks in San Joaquin Valley.
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Despite warming in April, only 12 inches of equivalent snow water has melted. Swain warned that in some areas like San Joaquin and Tulare basins, conditions could get worse before it gets better.
The Tulare Lake Basin is a primary concern as any upcoming storm may halt the peak of the snowmelt further until summer. Governor Gavin Newsom visited the place, emphasizing that water runoffs can continue for the coming 16 weeks.
Flood Operations Center has given resources like plastic sheeting, sandbags, and “muscle wall” barricades in January. In addition, the US Army Corps of Engineers is releasing water from big dams to secure the capacity of water flows.
Federal and state officials have also asked for continuous vigilance as runoff possibilities are still high. Karla Nemeth, DWR director, noted snowpack data’s significance in helping manage water resources and protect local communities.
Snowmelt may cause fast & rapidly changing water levels. Stay safe this #WaterSafetyMonth: 💦Don’t enter cold, fast-running water💦Swim with a buddy 💦Know your location💦Wear a life jacket💦Swim in properly designated areas. More➡️https://t.co/CipGCvkUDB pic.twitter.com/k2fmQ4BFZA
— CA – DWR (@CA_DWR) May 4, 2023
On a positive note, the huge amount of snowpack benefited California’s drought and water supply. The US Drought Monitor exhibits that less than 8% of the state is in drought compared to 90% only three months ago.
The DWR has designated 100% of supplies from the State Water Project for the first time since 2006. The US Bureau of Reclamation has also confirmed 100% allocation for most regions.
With more snow and rain expected, the accurate location and timing of snowmelt and flooding remains to be seen. Park officers at Yosemite National Park have reopened some parts after flooding projections didn’t materialize.
As snowmelt-driven water flows in rivers might occur in July, DWR officials advised Californians to remain alert and follow local state emergency officers’ warnings to stay safe during the flood season.
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Due to the alarming high forecast of water flow due to the melting snowpack, potential consequences include:
Flooding: With increased snowmelt, the risk of flooding in areas like Tulare Lake Basin and San Joaquin Valley also rises. Severe flooding can damage businesses, homes, and infrastructures leading to economic loss.
Erosion: Overflowing of water from the melting snow may cause soil erosion. It contributes to mudslides, landslides, and destabilization of slopes leading to property damage and safety threats.
Agricultural Impact: There could be a negative impact on the farm sector due to flooding. If fields are submerged in water, it may lead to crop destruction. Harvesting schedules might have lower yields leading to financial loss for the farmers.