Comparing this year to Miracle March


Odds are we’re not going to see a repeat of 1991’s Miracle March over the next week.

But then again, the winter of 2020-21 has hardly been as dry as the one 30 years ago that provided a little bit of hope in the middle of a seven-year drought.

The lack of snow saw Alpine County declaring a disaster and Washoe Lake drying up.

That water year had seen 1.22 inches of precipitation up through the end of February. March earned the sobriquet “miracle” when 1.13 inches of moisture fell in Minden the first week. By March 29, the Valley had racked up 1.99 inches and on the last day the month, another .64 inches fell.

A similar single storm in the final days could bring the Valley up to almost average for the water year that started on Oct. 1.

There is virtually no water storage upstream from Carson Valley, so what really matters to irrigators is what’s locked in the snowpack.

Those numbers aren’t great, with the Natural Resources Conservation Service showing the top of the East Fork at about 80 percent while Carson Pass is around 68 percent as of Tuesday.

Irrigators like to see those numbers well over 100 percent around this time of year in preparation for the gates to start opening April 1.

No one in Carson Valley drinks water from the river, or at least no one should. Residents get their drinking water from the aquifer that lies below the Valley. The river is a source of some of that water through infiltration, but so are the streams pouring out of the Sierra. 

The river does supply most of the water used to keep Carson Valley’s fields green. In dry years, when farmers don’t get their full allotment, some have supplemental rights that allow them to pump water from the aquifer. 

It’s estimated that those supplemental rights account for half those below Carson Valley, driving up water use in dry years.

Spring is barely five days old, and a lot can happen over the next few months. Late cold snaps can keep the snowpack longer into the season. We’ve seen 3 feet of snow in Gardnerville as late as Mother’s Day. We’ve also seen it climb to 90 degrees in April and nearly 100 degrees in May.

And much as people talk about the weather, as Mark Twain once noted, no one does anything about it.


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