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The Sierra snowpack is larger than it has been in [ 72 ] years

DeniseM

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We just overnighted at South Tahoe and the piles of snow are high.
 

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Our daughter/SIL made a small sledding hill in their front yard. The snow is almost up to the street sign on the corner.
 

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After reading about the sparring over Colorado River water these last few weeks, this is very welcome news for Californians. My son just moved to west LA, so I've been paying more attention to it. Hopefully the precip continues a bit into the season.
 

x3 skier

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Steamboat snowfall this year passed last season’s total last week. The Yampa River flows through town and feeds into the Colorado River system.
 

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After reading about the sparring over Colorado River water these last few weeks, this is very welcome news for Californians. My son just moved to west LA, so I've been paying more attention to it. Hopefully the precip continues a bit into the season.
There is a limited amount of water storage for the Sierra Nevada snowmelt. When that is exceeded, the water just flows to the sea or the Nevada desert where it evaporates. Take Lake Tahoe for example; if there is not a lot of melting before April 1st, Lake Tahoe will get a welcome recharge. Two winters in a row like that, and water might start flowing over the dam, but then it just flows down the Truckee River through Reno and out to the desert.

None of the Sierra snowmelt will reach the largest reservoirs on the Colorado River -- Lake Powell and Lake Mead.


"The recent storms have not had much impact on the Colorado River Basin, another important source of water for California. That region is also enduring a historic drought and facing dramatic cuts in water usage as levels in major reservoirs Lake Powell and Lake Mead have fallen to dangerous levels. The atmospheric rivers — narrow but intense filaments of deep tropical moisture stretching thousands of miles across the Pacific — that have drenched the California coast and mountains haven’t had the same impact further inland. Snowpacks in the Upper Colorado River Basin states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — are above average for this time of year, although not as high as California."
 

CO skier

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Steamboat snowfall this year passed last season’s total last week. The Yampa River flows through town and feeds into the Colorado River system.
I have never seen so much snow in the town of Steamboat Springs. In West Yellowstone, the snow is waist-deep and piled up in 10-12' mounds all around town. It will take a few exceptional winters like this in a row to have a meaningful improvement in the water levels of Lake Powell and Lake Mead.


"But the past two years have also seen relatively bountiful snows in the Rockies, only to have runoff levels far lower than average. That’s because hotter temperatures in recent decades have dried out soils, hastened melting, increased evaporation and lengthened growing seasons, so vegetation consumes more water before it can reach the reservoirs, said Katrina Bennett, a hydrologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who studies the relationship between snowpack and water supply in the Colorado River region.

“Even with these very high years, we’re still seeing aridity across the basin, and that’s largely due to the fact that we still have this background of higher temperatures,” she said. “If we did have very, very high years, several years in a row, we might see some correction in the reservoir systems.”
 

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None of the Sierra snowmelt will reach the largest reservoirs on the Colorado River -- Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
I understand that the two watersheds are distinct, but California draws from both.

And yes the upper basin is still hurting, for sure, and California does in fact depend on the Colorado, so the squabbling will continue. It will be interesting to see if seniority of rights carries the day or if other political considerations will take hold.
 

CO skier

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There is also the ever present risk of a rain-on-snow event between now and May, when 50% of the snowpack can melt in a matter of days with catastrophic flooding.

 

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"The recent storms have not had much impact on the Colorado River Basin, another important source of water for California. That region is also enduring a historic drought and facing dramatic cuts in water usage as levels in major reservoirs Lake Powell and Lake Mead have fallen to dangerous levels. The atmospheric rivers — narrow but intense filaments of deep tropical moisture stretching thousands of miles across the Pacific — that have drenched the California coast and mountains haven’t had the same impact further inland. Snowpacks in the Upper Colorado River Basin states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — are above average for this time of year, although not as high as California."
In my opinion this is a usage issue and not indicative of a drought. The reality is, the water allotments that were decided on with the treaty between Mexico and the American states with Colorado water rights overestimated that allotments that could be distributed. Once they correct the water allotments, the issue will correct itself over time. Lets keep in mind that all of these lakes on the colorado river are man-made, therefore seeing them at record low levels indicates poor water usage policy, not an actual problem with the environment.
 

T_R_Oglodyte

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There is a limited amount of water storage for the Sierra Nevada snowmelt. When that is exceeded, the water just flows to the sea or the Nevada desert where it evaporates. Take Lake Tahoe for example; if there is not a lot of melting before April 1st, Lake Tahoe will get a welcome recharge. Two winters in a row like that, and water might start flowing over the dam, but then it just flows down the Truckee River through Reno and out to the desert.
That is untrue The reservoirs on the Sierra Nevada stream systems are among the largest in relation to stream flow in the world. I'll take the Tuolumne River, as an example, because I did water rights work on the Tuolumne for several years. As I recall, the total reservoir storage volume on the Tuolumne is almost three times average annual flow. That is a very large amount of storage. Then, for the rivers on the west side of the Sierra, when reservoirs are full and there is surplus water, the irrigation districts divert that water into their highline canals and have the growers use their fields for groundwater recharge.

On the east side of the Sierra, from the Mono Basin and southward, the City of Los Angeles captures every drop of water it is entitled to capture. All amounts of water that reach the Owens Lake are required flows. On the Truckee River, surplus flows maintain Pyramid Lake. The same is true further north with the Susan River.

The Sierra streams have been "engineered" to capture and use almost every drop of water, and to provide multiple years of carryover storage. Water that is allowed to bypass is generally only that which is legally mandated. On occasion, there is an occasional hydrologic year in which the amount of water simply exceeds capacity. In the nearly 100 years of Tuolumne data I worked with, there was only one year where there was enough runoff that the capacity of existing storage capabilities would have been fully utilized.
 
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VacationForever

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I hope we continue to get a ton of snow through April. BTW, I was out golfing yesterday during ladies game day and it snowed! It was pretty amazing and most of us even finished our round.
 

T_R_Oglodyte

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That is untrue The reservoirs on the Sierra Nevada stream systems are among the largest in relation to stream flow in the world. I'll take the Tuolumne River, as an example, because I did water rights work on the Tuolumne for several years. As I recall, the total reservoir storage volume on the Tuolumne is between talmost three times average annual flow. That is a very large amount storage. Then, for the rivers on the west side of the Sierra, when reservoirs are full and there is surplus water, the irrigation districts divert that water into their highline canals and have the growers use their fields for groundwater recharge.

On the east side of the Sierra, from the Mono Basin and southward, the City of Los Angeles captures every drop of water it is entitled to capture. All amounts of water that reach the Owens Lake are required flows. On the Truckee River, surplus flows maintain Pyramid Lake. The same is true further north with the Susan River.

The Sierra streams have been "engineered" to capture and use almost every drop of water, and to provide multiple years of carryover storage. Water that is allowed to bypass is generally only that which is legally mandated. On occasion, there is an occasional hydrologic year in which the amount of water simply exceeds capacity. In the nearly 100 years of Tuolumne data I worked with, there was only one year where was enough water that the capacity of existing storage capabilities would have been fully utilized.
Most of California is semi-arid to arid. Water has always been a valuable resource, and the infrastructure has been built in CA to capture almost every available drop, to the point where debates in the state revolve around reducing water withdrawals for the preservation of downstream water uses.

A couple of aphorisms from my time when I was involved in water resources:
  • In California, water does not flow to the ocean. It flows to money.
  • Historically, when there was a meeting to discuss water rights, the first item on the agenda was for every person to place their guns on the table in front of them.
 
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rickandcindy23

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That is great for California. Colorado is also experiencing large amounts of snow. Great skiing.
 

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@heathpack posted on FB about snow in SoCal, which is surprising, but I know the kids are at Disneyland and didn't experience snow, but very cold temperatures are the norm for the entire week. They didn't go prepared. I told them it would be "cool" but didn't expect highs of 50 degrees.
 
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douglasmhines

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Most of California is semi-arid to arid. Water has always been a valuable resource, and the infrastructure has been built in CA to capture almost every available drop, to the point where debates in the state revolve around reducing water withdrawals for the preservation of downstream water uses.

A couple of aphorisms from my time when I was involved in water resources:
  • In California, water does not flow to the ocean. It flows to money.
  • When there is a meeting to discuss water rights, the first item on the agenda for every person to place their guns on the table in front of them.

Maybe I am misunderstanding your post, but there are mandated water flows to the ocean.
 

PigsDad

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Here's a picture of 3 crazy women golfing when snow came down in the middle of our round this Wednesday. It is probably not unusual for those who live in cold area but we don't generally get snow here in Southern Nevada.
View attachment 73553
Looks fun! In Colorado, people would be wearing shorts in that weather, not winter coats. :ROFLMAO:

Kurt
 

T_R_Oglodyte

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Maybe I am misunderstanding your post, but there are mandated water flows to the ocean.
correct. When I said "every available drop", that is every drop legally available.

Historically, prior to mandated flows, that could literally mean every available drop. Sometimes it still does. In the upper Santa Ana River basin (everything upstream of Prado Dam just below Chino), every drop of water is captured, used, and reused. I don't recall the exact number, but as I recall on average, every drop of water that falls in the Santa Ana basin is reused three times before it ultimately reaches the ocean.
 

GetawaysRus

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We're having another major storm in California.

I predict that next week, when the storm is over, they will tell us that we're still in a severe drought.
 

Blues

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We're having another major storm in California.

I predict that next week, when the storm is over, they will tell us that we're still in a severe drought.

As of 2/21/23, 33% of the state of California is in severe drought or worse. But zero percent is in extreme drought or worse.

Compare that to 3 months ago, when 85% of the state was in severe drought or worse, and 41% in extreme drought or worse. The storms have helped our water problems immensely.

Source: https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/CurrentMap/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?CA
 

CO skier

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Maybe I am misunderstanding your post, but there are mandated water flows to the ocean.
And it is not just that. Many of the dams in California and elsewhere have a dual purpose -- water storage and flood control. When the water storage capacity exceeds a certain percent of flood control prevention capacity at any given time, water is released downstream, and it can literally cascade from reservoir capacity to reservoir capacity until it reaches the ocean.


"At issue are rules that, at face value, seem perplexing to many Californians. Even in a chronically dry state, reservoirs are not allowed to fill up in the winter.

Throughout the late fall and winter, most are required to release water if they get too full, sometimes emptying out almost by half. That's because the empty space is crucial if an intense storm hits. Reservoirs collect runoff and prevent it from flooding downstream cities.

Still, in some years, reservoirs preemptively empty out with little need if no major storms materialize. That means valuable water is lost for potentially drier months ahead."

One example -- well, sure, a relatively small reservoir in California not a part of the Sierra watershed, but still a valuable illustration of "flood control" overriding "storage capacity" (emphasis from the article itself):

"January 17, 2023 at 2:29 p.m. In an attempt to make room for more water delivered by upcoming storms, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began releasing large amounts of water from Lake Mendocino for the first time in nearly four years."

If my geography is correct, Lake Mendocino is the last reservoir on the Russian River ... before it empties into the Pacific Ocean.

Let us hope, and pray, and cross our fingers and toes that a "rain on snow event" delivered by a spring Hawaiian Express storm does not precipitate similar releases from the Sierra Nevada reservoirs.

Good news is, last I checked, the Las Vegas line is very long odds on such a storm. ;)
 
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