Although the New Year snow surveys conducted by the California Department of Water Resources in 2019 and 2020 were remarkably different, their messages were the same – climate change is having a profound effect on California’s snowpack and water resources.
When the DWR officials dropped the measuring pipe into the snow on Thursday, January 3, 2019, they announced drought fears with a snowpack measuring at just 67 percent of yearly average.
“The last few years have shown how variable California’s climate truly is and what a profound impact climate change has on our water resources,” DWR Director Karla Nemeth said following the 2019 survey. “California’s significant weather variability means we can go from historic drought to record rainfall, with nothing in between. Climate change will continue to exacerbate the extremes, creating additional challenges for maintaining water supply reliability and the need for innovative solutions.”
Of course, the water year eventually took a miraculous turn, with record snowfall in the latter part of the winter providing plenty of snowpack and water in the reservoirs. In fact, the significant precipitation singlehandedly brought California out of a drought. Following those historic storms, DWR measured a snowpack in March 2019 that doubled over those few months, and the message was the same – climate change.
“The past few years have really shown us how variable California’s climate is and what a profound impact climate change has had on our water resources,” said Erin Mellon from the DWR Public Affairs Office in March 2019. “Our recent historic drought was followed by a record-breaking year of precipitation in 2017. No matter what the rest of the year has in store for us, we’re always reminded as Californians that conservation must be a way of life because we don’t know what next year will have in store for us.”
Fast forward to January 2, 2020, and the snowpack measured at 90 percent of yearly average, with DWR’s message the same – climate change.
“It’s still too early to predict what the remainder of the year will bring in terms of snowpack,” said Sean de Guzman, chief of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section, following the first 2020 survey. “Climate change is altering the balance of rain and snow in California. That is why it is important to maintain our measurements of the snowpack to document the change in addition to having critical information to forecast spring runoff.”
The DWR is so committed to combating climate change in California that it developed a climate action plan that outlines a three-phase plan over the next 30 years to reduce emissions and build infrastructure in the face of the threat.
While your curiosity surrounding the snowpack might come from concerns of California’s water storage or the historical data of the upcoming water year, the Department of Water Resources seems to have one thing on the mind – climate change.