Anxiety mounts as California snowpack hits record low

Drought_blogUnfortunately it’s no April fool’s joke that the snowpack levels across the entire Sierra Nevada are now the lowest in recorded history, making the water outlook in drought-racked California even worse than was previously thought.

As profiled in a recent article, this has huge implications for tens of millions of people who depend on water flowing downstream from the melting snow, including the nation’s most productive farming region, the California Central Valley.

The snow supplies roughly a third of all of California’s water, on average. The Sierra Nevada snowpack is supposed to be a storage bank as it holds the snow late into the spring that then melts gradually. The runoff feeds reservoirs that supply water for millions of people and the Central Valley. This year however, California’s chief snow surveyor says, there may not even be runoff.

This comes after many thought the farming conditions could not get any worse than last year, which one farmer described in a recent article as “damn near a disaster.”  Relief however, does not seem to be on its way as the snowpack levels are currently sitting at 6%, shattering the previous record low of 25% for this time of the year, which was set in 1977.

In the article, farm manager Jerry Schlitz, of La Jolla Farming in Delano, Calif., said the farm depends on two sources of water: the federal Central Valley Project and wells.  Wells were used to supplement the federal water during last year’s drought, and when one of them dried up, the farm lost approximately 160 acres or about a million dollars worth of produce, plus the wasted labor and other resources.

This year, Schlitz said the outlook is no better. In fact, The Central Valley Project, which decides where and when to release what water is left in California’s reservoirs, has already warned that most farmers downstream won’t get any water for the second straight year.

According to the article, more than 400,000 acres of farmland were fallowed last year because of scarce water which experts are estimating could double this year.

Now, farmers at La Jolla are plowing miles of trench in the dry earth to bury water pipes connecting wells to fields and fields to wells. The farm owners want to make sure that they can move water from working wells to the places that need it, which is one of the few options they are left since drilling a new well is about a two-year waiting period and a half-million dollar expense.

“It’s a very scary time,” Schlitz said in the article. “That’s our lifeblood up there,” he added as he pointed to the snow sprinkled mountains on the horizon.

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