By TIM HEARDEN
REDDING, Calif. - A much-awaited snowpack survey March 28 merely confirmed what California water officials already knew: it's turned out to be a dry year.
After a record dry January and February in much of the state, the California Department of Water Resources found the snowpack water content to be only 52 percent of normal for this time of year.
Whatever April brings, that's probably as good as it's going to get because the snow typically starts melting by now, said Ted Thomas, the DWR's chief spokesman.
"Most likely this will be the peak," Thomas said. "The bright spot is thanks to storms in November and December, our reservoirs are near or slightly above their historical average in storage."
Indeed, the total storage statewide is at 97 percent of normal, according to the DWR's California Data Exchange Center. Shasta Lake, the centerpiece of the Central Valley Project, is slightly above its average for this time of year. The same is true for Lake Oroville.
However, the light snowpack prompted officials last week to further cut State Water Project allocations from 40 percent to 35 percent of requested amounts. The project supplies water to more than 25 million Californians and nearly a million acres of irrigated agriculture, according to a news release.
Pumping restrictions imposed this winter to protect Delta smelt and salmon are another reason for the low water delivery estimate, officials said.
Likewise, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced it was decreasing agricultural water service contractors' allocations from 25 percent to 20 percent of normal supplies south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Ag contractors north of the Delta will get 75 percent of their contract supply of 443,000 acre-feet, the agency announced.
Farmers are already feeling the pinch from the lack of rainfall. Greg Hawes, who grows wheat and walnuts in the Redding area, said his farm has received barely enough rain for the season. And he knows it could be worse.
"I was down in the Los Banos area three weeks ago and holy smokes," he said. "There's fields there just drying up. I hope April's wet."
The dry conditions come after November and December storms pushed California's snowpack water content to 134 percent of normal as of Jan. 2, when the DWR and other agencies did the season's first manual survey.
But by the third manual survey in February, the snowpack water content had dwindled to 66 percent of average, the state's news release explained.
Some help could be on the way.
The federal Climate Prediction Center foresees above-average chances of precipitation in much of California through at least the first half of April, although more long-range forecasts show a return to a dry pattern.
"A wet April could make a difference," Thomas said. "The long-range forecast is for below-average precipitation, but definitely a wet April could improve things."
Here are the March and seasonal rainfall totals and comparisons to normal for selected California cities, according to the National Weather Service. Totals are as of March 28:
Redding: Month to date 2.2 inches (normal 4.07 inches); season to date 22.87 inches (normal 29.3 inches)
Eureka: Month to date 2.67 inches (normal 4.56 inches); season to date 27.85 inches (normal 34.04 inches)
Sacramento: Month to date 0.66 inches (normal 2.56 inches); season to date 13.27 inches (normal 16.29 inches)
Modesto: Month to date 0.17 inches (normal 1.9 inches); season to date 7.64 inches (normal 11.25 inches)
Salinas: Month to date 0.37 inches (normal 2.09 inches); season to date 8.61 inches (normal 11.29 inches)
Fresno: Month to date 0.33 inches (normal 1.88 inches); season to date 5.19 inches (normal 9.76 inches)