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Despite Snowfall, Water Levels Still Far Below Average

State water agency must draw on last year's reserves to meet customers' needs

Despite recent snowfall, the water content in California's mountains is still significantly below normal, according to the results of the state's most recent snow survey, released Wednesday.

Mountain snowpack is at 37 percent of the average for this time of year, and just 23 percent of the normal amount for April 1, when snowpack typically peaks.

The California Department of Water Resources, which provides water to about 25 million Californian homes, farms and businesses, plans to rely on reserves from last year's record snowfalls to meet its customers' needs.

“It’s certainly not good,” agency spokesman Ted Thomas said. “What’s really helping this year is we have a lot of carryover storage because last year was very wet. That’s offsetting the relatively dry conditions this year. We still need more rain and snow this winter.”

Runoff from snowpacks usually accounts for approximately one-third of the state’s water needs.

San Francisco's water agency, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, is encouraging its customers to save as much water as they can.

"Now we're starting to draw from that cup and we need a source of water to refill it," said spokesman Tyrone Jue, referring to the agency's reservoirs. "Right now, there’s not a refill in sight. People should start banging their rain drums a little harder and start to conserve a little more water."

He added the commission is keeping its options open regarding water control measures, which could include price hikes or restrictions on usage.

Meteorologists do not expect snowfall to increase much as winter goes on.

“We might get some snow over the higher elevations next Tuesday,” National Weather Service meteorologist Holly Osborne said. “We’re not looking at a whole lot. None of them look like they’re going to build significant snowpack for the next week.”

“Most likely, we won’t get above normal for the season,” she said.

Only the northwestern part of the state in areas surrounding Eureka are expected to receive higher than average precipitation. The central part of the state is slated to get average levels of rainfall, while the southern mountain ranges are expected to see less than usual.

The dry conditions can be blamed on a weather phenomenon known as La Niña, in which the surface of the Pacific Ocean is cooler than normal in some areas, according to Norman L. Miller, an earth scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.

The pattern creates "a persistent high pressure ridge that 'blocks'" moisture from coming toward California, Miller said in an email. Gaps in the pattern have allowed a few storms to come through this season, "but this was a small amount," Miller said.

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