January 30, 2009

California could see worst drought ever

California is hovering near the worst drought in the state's history, officials said after reporting the Sierra Nevada snowpack is 61 percent of normal.

California usually gets about 20 percent of its annual precipitation in January, but this year a string of dry, sunny days graced the state, reducing the anticipated precipitation, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The dry weather is occurring as the state's water system is pressured by an increasing population, an old infrastructure and court-ordered reductions in water pumped through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, none of which existed or were less severe during similar dry spells in the late 1970s and late 1980s, the Chronicle said.

We're definitely in really bad shape, said Elissa Lynn, chief meteorologist with the state Department of Water Resources. People can expect to pay higher prices for produce ... and more agencies may be rationing ... some raising fees. We just don't have enough water.

Thursday's snow survey by the Department of Water Resources indicated the snow's water content, or snowpack, of the Sierra Nevada was 61 percent of normal for this time of year. The snowpack was 111 percent of normal at the same time last year, but the driest spring on record led to a drought.

The snow's water content is the key factor affecting spring runoff levels, which state officials said help water planners determine water supplies for their districts each season.