- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

RENO, Nev. (AP) - The traditional snow season ended April 1 with what appears to be the most dismal Sierra Nevada mountain snowpack on record, cementing 2015’s status as the fourth drought year in a row and setting the stage for a difficult summer in California and nearby states.

The Lake Tahoe Basin’s snowpack Tuesday was only 3 percent of normal for the date and the Truckee River Basin’s was measured at 14 percent, far worse than the end-of-season numbers for any of the previous three drought years.

“It’s pretty bad, the worst in a century,” said Jeff Anderson, snow surveyor for the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal (https://on.rgj.com/1Io7KjE). “It not only squeaked by the record, I would say it shattered the record.

“It’s scary,” Anderson said.

At Lake Lucille in California’s Desolation Wilderness, and at an altitude of 8,200 feet, the water content in the snowpack was 14.8 inches, significantly less than the previous record low of 20.4 inches set during the drought year of 1977. Records there date back to 1913. At lower elevations, the situation is more grim.

“Almost all of the snow measuring sites at Tahoe have melted out already,” Anderson said. At those locations, the April 1 snowpack will be recorded with a zero.

The result will be minimal runoff this spring in area streams and rivers. Lake Tahoe, the largest reservoir in the Truckee River system, has been below its natural rim since October, cutting off all flow of water into the river. It’s looking unlikely the lake will rise above its rim at all in 2015, Anderson said.

On Tuesday, the primary water provider serving the Reno-Sparks area of Northern Nevada_just east of Lake Tahoe_urged water customers to immediately cut water use by a minimum of 10%, including both outdoor irrigation and indoor water use. With continued drought seemingly unavoidable, directors of the Truckee Meadows Water Authority voted earlier this month to ask customers to reduce water use for the second year in a row.

A 10% reduction would allow the utility to save up to 5,000 acre-feet of water stored in upstream reserves and the groundwater aquifer, or more than 1.6 billion gallons, utility officials said.

“We are all in this together,” said Mark Foree, the utility’s general manager. “With the seriousness of the drought, we all need to do as much as we can.”

The situation is indeed serious, experts agreed during a Tuesday briefing at University of Nevada, Reno.

Dry conditions and low precipitation have combined with higher-than-normal temperatures to create a significant problem, said Douglas Boyle, Nevada climatologist.

Nevada’s year-round, average temperature statewide was more than 53 degrees in 2014 compared to a normal average of 49.5 degrees, producing the warmest year on record, Boyle said. Average temperatures were about 50.5 degrees in 2013 and 52.5 degrees in 2012. Precipitation throughout the recent drought period averaged between 40 and 60 percent of normal, Boyle said.

Long-range outlooks call for above-normal temperatures April through June with the drought intensifying over that period, he said.

Like many, Kelly Redmond of Reno’s Western Regional Climate Center was hopeful this winter would be a decent one and help to pull the region out of protracted drought.

It wasn’t to be.

“I was slightly more than hopeful we would have something at least close to normal,” Redmond said. “It turned out to be as bad or worse than the previous three (years) and it’s been so decidedly warm on top of that.”

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Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, https://www.rgj.com

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