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article imageLow California snowpack could force limits on water use

By Nathan Salant     May 1, 2014 in Environment
Sacramento - California's three-year drought seemed to get even worse Thursday when official measurement of the state's mountain snowfall showed even lower accumulations than expected.
This year's snow, which refills the state's extensive river and reservoir system when it melts in the spring and summer months, came in at only 18 percent of normal, California officials said.
The snowpack was 32 percent of normal last month's measurement.
"We'll be going into next year's rainy season with less water than we went into this year with," Frank Gehrke of the state Department of Water Resources told the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.
"We're draining our bank account, and that Social Security check stopped coming in," Gehrke said.
A brief spate of showers in April helped alleviate concerns statewide, but officials warned at the time that it was too little and too late to help with the drought.
Gehrke also noted Thursday that it was the last rain expected in California until fall.
Surveyers found no snow at many of the 120 Sierra measurement spots, the newspaper said, including at the historic Phillips Station near Echo Summit.
The snowpack was even shorter in further north regions, including the Cascade mountains, where accumulations are only 7 percent of average, the newspaper said.
When all measurements are calculated in a few days, officials said the 2013-2014 rainy season is expected to be among the six driest in state history, which dates back to 1850.
Melted snow makes up 60 percent of the water in California's reservoirs, and is used to irrigate eight million acres of farmland and to supply drinking water to most of the state's 39 million people, the Chronicle said.
The dry winter led Gov. Jerry Brown to issue an executive order last week urging residents to conserve water, in keeping with his declaration of a drought emergency in January.
Some communities already have started mandatory and voluntary rationing programs, the newspaper said, and farmers have started to reduce their planting and pull out water-intensive crops.
In a further sign of the worsening drought, California's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has started hiring seasonal firefighters for what is expected to be an extremely busy fire season, the newspaper said.
The Department of Water Resources and the Association of California Water Agencies also announced the start of a new campaign to educate residents on water-saving techniques, the Chronicle said.
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