New snow moving Sierra beyond shadow of a drought?

Survey in February will give Placer County a clearer water supply picture
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Placer County Water Agency Director Mike Lee says that the lack of rain or snow usually means board members can raise a chuckle or two when they speak before a group and joke that they’re starting to do their rain dance. Beneath the mirth is a growing sense of concern. Last week’s storms brought snow to the Sierra after a lengthy dry period through the late fall and early winter. But Lee said that the agency, which gets its water from high in the Sierra, is still worried about low snow totals so far this season. “The board has been doing a raindance,” Lee said. “We’re beginning to worry but it’s too soon to make a judgment on a drought.” In early January, snow surveys conducted by the Department of Water Resources found statewide snowpack was only 19 percent of average for Jan. 3 and 5 percent of the April 1 average. The Auburn-based water agency has staff beginning to prepare a backup plan in the event that there is a dry spring, Lee said. But with reservoirs still far from being drawn down, Lee said that a program of water rationing is not an option being envisioned by the agency at this time. The last period of rationing occurred during the drought year of 1977, and even then it was voluntary, he said. Rationing took the form of customer water usage on alternating days and came after two straight years of drought, he said. Jay L’Estrange, water agency power systems manager, said Wednesday that Pacific Gas & Electric will fly a helicopter out Feb. 3 for measurements at four Placer County snow courses high in the mountains. “There is snow up there but probably not enough for this time of year,” L’Estrange said. “We’ll know more in 10 days or so.” In the meantime, the agency is hoping for more snow while preparing for the possibility of dry months ahead. “The storms brought 2.8 inches of rain to Loomis, which was a good sign,” Lee said. While the water agency’s next snow course measurements will take place in early February, ski resorts have reported storms over the weekend produced a good base. At Alpine Meadows, spokeswoman Amelia Richmond said the resort received 6 feet at its summit over three days. Sugar Bowl reported four feet of new snow. Alpine Meadows’ Jenny Kendrick said Wednesday that the snow stopped falling Monday and the resort was basking in sunny weather again. That was good news for skiers, promising new terrain coated with fresh powder opening up, she said. The National Weather Service is forecasting the clear weather to continue with just a trace amount falling at times Thursday in the Sierra and a chance of light snow Sunday.