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Water supplies not up to par, experts say

by Linda Hiller

There’s good news and bad news in the snow these days.

The good news is, snow water equivalent levels – the amount of water in the snow – have increased since the most recent storm last week. The bad news is, we’re still way below normal.

“December was a very dry month, and our three wettest months are December, January and February, so we still have some time to get more precipitation,” said John James, Nevada’s state climatologist. “We’re not concerned yet, but we’ll be looking closely at the end of February. We’ve seen some improvement this first half of January, and four or five storms like the one we just had could easily put us up to a normal year. “

Jim Ashby, a climatologist with the Western Regional Climate Center, said the Lake Tahoe measuring area is at 51 percent of normal and the Truckee River Basin at 48 percent of normal.

“If we were looking at these numbers in March, we’d be shaking in our boots, but not yet,” he said. “A few small storms or one good-sized, monster three-day storm could also put us up to normal. Last year, December was even drier than this year, and in mid-January the storms started. We wound up with a pretty normal year. “

“The Walker and Carson areas are pretty low, but Tahoe is in better shape right now,” James said. “Most of the state is below normal right now except for the lower Humboldt.”

Vada Hubbard, an engineering technician with the Minden office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said Tuesday the snow water equivalent of the Carson River Basin is at 44 percent of normal and the Walker River Basin is at 35 percent of normal.

“Before the storm, on Jan. 10, we were down to 27 percent of normal for the Carson River Basin and 20 percent for the Walker River,” she said. “Then, by Jan. 11, we moved up to 37 percent for the Carson and 34 percent for the Walker. The last storm jumped us to 44 percent for the Carson River and and 35 percent for the Walker, so we’re moving up. A lot of the time, we get most of our precipitation after the first of the year.”

Hubbard said the water years used to run on roughly a seven-year cycle, but the last seven years have not fit that pattern.

“We had four above average years, 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998, and then 1999 and 2000 were about average,” she said. “In 1995, we had flood events, and in 1997, we were at 200 percent of normal and had the big New Year’s flood.”

Hubbard said that if the snow water equivalent in the mountains remains far below normal by April 1, state engineers and local watermasters will look at reservoir storage and snowpack data to determine if water allotments in the Carson Valley will have to be controlled.

“The older water rights have priority, and they would have to go from there,” she said. “But we’re not thinking about that yet.”

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” James said. “It’s still early.”

For more data on snow water equivalents, visit the Web site, http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/snotel.html.