Saturday, January 5, 2008

California snowpack low, showing less water supply


LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The snowpack in the Sierra Mountains of California is 60 percent of normal, but rain and snow expected in the next few days will raise that figure, the California Department of Water Resources said in its first snow survey of the season issued late Thursday.

Snow water is an important factor for determining the coming year's water supply for hydroelectric generation, as well as the reservoir level for the state and local water supply. California gets more than 17 percent of its power from hydroelectric generation, according to the California Energy Commission.

The CDWR's survey was conducted on Thursday.

Friday, stormy weather in northern California felled power lines and caused power outages affecting more than 100,000 customers.

That storm and others to follow it in the next several days will bring much-needed snowfall that will raise California's snowpack toward normal, said Arthur Hinojosa, chief of the CDWR's hydrology branch

At least five feet of snow are forecast to fall in northern California over the next several days in the higher elevations of the Sierra Mountains, CDWR said.

Sierra snow levels are expected to begin at 6,000 feet and drop to below 4,000 feet through the weekend with another weaker storm to arrive early next week, Hinojosa said.

"The pending storms should provide the state with a much needed helping of snow," said Hinojosa. "We hope to get close to the January average precipitation for the Northern Sierra over the next week."

This January should be an abundant contrast to January 2007 when extremely dry conditions led to a much smaller than normal snowpack.

"The surveys are particularly significant this year because last year's snowpack yielded only 30 percent of the normal water content," said the CDWR.

For now, the CDWR said, reservoirs are low, as shown by a 55 percent of normal reading at Lake Oroville, which has a capacity to hold 3.5 million acre feet of water.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; editing by Jim Marshall)

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