Snow melts into creek near survey site
Snow melts into a creek near the site of the California Department of Water Resources third snow survey of the 2022 season. Photo by Ken James / DWR

California’s vital Sierra snowpack has fallen “well below average” in the third official measurement of the season, signaling another year of drought is ahead.

That was the conclusion after the Department of Water Resources conducted the third snow survey of the season Tuesday at Phillips Station west of Lake Tahoe.

Following the driest January and February in state history, the manual survey recorded 35 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 16 inches, which is 68% of average for this location in March.

“With only one month left in California’s wet season and no major storms in the forecast, Californians should plan for a third year of drought conditions,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth.

“A significantly below-average snowpack combined with already low reservoir levels make it critical that all Californians step up and conserve water every day to help the state meet the challenges of severe drought,” she said.

Although early season storms helped alleviate some drought impacts, a lack of storms in January and February heightens the need for conservation. Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked all Californians to cut back water use at least 15% compared to 2020 levels.

Regionally, the Northern, Central, and Southern Sierra snowpacks are all standing just above 59% to 66% of average for this date, impacting watersheds across the state.

“Without any significant storms on the horizon, it’s safe to say we’ll end this year dry and extend this drought a third year,” said Sean de Guzman, manager of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.