March storms revive California’s snowpack, boosting water supply

March storms significantly boosted California's snowpack to above-average levels, prompting a strategic and equitable update to water management plans amidst climate variability.
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  • March weather significantly improved California’s snowpack, reaching 113% of the average at Phillips Station.
  • Statewide snowpack is now at 110% of average, a drastic rise from 28% on January 1.
  • Despite variable runoff forecasts, water storage efforts bolster reservoir levels to 116% of the average.
  • The California Water Plan Update 2023 aims for sustainable, equitable water resource management amid climate change.
  • California achieved over 1.2 million acre-feet of groundwater recharge in 2023 to combat future droughts.
  • Sierra snowpack, California’s “frozen reservoir,” is crucial for the state’s water needs, providing about 30%.

April 4, 2024 — After a dry beginning of the year, California witnessed a remarkable turnaround in its water forecast, thanks to the late-season storms in March. The Department of Water Resources (DWR) has just released the findings from its pivotal April snow surveyOpens in a new tab., and the numbers bring a wave of cautious optimism. At Phillips Station, the snow depth reached 64 inches, translating to a snow water equivalent of 27.5 inches—113% of what’s typically expected at this time of year.

Statewide Success and Future Challenges.

Statewide, the picture is similarly promising, with snow-water equivalent measurements signaling a 110% average across the board. This recovery from a mere 28% average at the year’s start underscores the dramatic volatility of the state’s climate. As DWR Director Karla NemethOpens in a new tab. pointed out, this recovery is a testament to the unpredictable swings from dry to wet conditions, emphasizing the need for continued conservation and efficient management of the spring runoff.

A Strategic Approach to Water Management.

The state’s reservoirs are currently at 116% of their average levels, thanks partly to proactive efforts to capture and store water during wetter periods. Moreover, the State Water Project has seen significant increases in storage capacity, further bolstering our preparedness for drier times.

However, the road ahead remains uncertain. The spring runoff, vital for replenishing water supplies, may be impacted by various factors, including the dry early months of the year and the presence of soot and ash from burn scars, accelerating snowmelt. These variables complicate predictions and highlight the need for adaptable, informed water management strategies.

Envisioning a Sustainable Water Future.

Amid these complexities, Governor Gavin Newsom and the DWR have unveiled the California Water Plan Update 2023Opens in a new tab.. This visionary document lays a roadmap for a future where California’s water resources are managed sustainably, with resilience against climate change and equity for all communities. It calls for urgent action on climate, enhanced watershed resilience, and a fair approach to water management – critical principles as the state navigates the uncertainties of a changing environment.

Groundwater Recharge: A Forward-Thinking Strategy.

Part of California’s strategy for climate adaptation includes an aggressive push for groundwater recharge. The state has made significant strides in this area, with over 1.2 million acre-feet of groundwater recharge permitted in 2023 alone. These efforts are essential for building a buffer against future droughts, ensuring California remains prepared for the challenges ahead.

The Crucial Role of the Sierra Snowpack.

The Sierra snowpack, often called California’s “frozen reservoir,” plays a pivotal role in the state’s water supply, accounting for about 30% of its needs. The data collected from snow surveys like the one conducted at Phillips Station are invaluable for water management, helping inform decisions affecting millions of Californians.

As the state moves forward, the lessons from this year’s snow surveys are clear: conservation, strategic planning, and a commitment to sustainable practices are more critical than ever. California’s journey toward water security is ongoing with a changing climate and unpredictable weather patterns. Still, with the steps currently taken, the state is laying the groundwork for a more resilient future.

Image via California Department of Water ResourcesOpens in a new tab.: DWR staff, joined by Governor Gavin Newsom and CNRA Secretary Wade Crowfoot, conduct the April 2, 2024, manual snow survey at Phillips Station



Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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