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California heads for a third dry year in a row

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Even in Washington state, which has seen a boatload of precipitation recently, the latest snow-water content levels are below normal at nine out of 11 federally managed sampling sites.

And California's major reservoirs? Lake Oroville holds only 43 percent of the water it normally stores at this time of year. Water sent to farms and cities from the Sacramento River Delta is also in short supply. Between dry conditions and environmental regulations, the Water Resources Department currently estimates that it will be able to send out only about 15 percent of the water people to farms and urban areas are requesting from the Delta via the State Water Project.

For those of us who don't rely on mountain snows as natural holding tanks for a large chunk of our water supply, it may seem odd to hear talk of drought when some ski resorts in the Sierras are talking 78 inches of packed powder.

The key is water content. A longstanding rule of thumb holds that 10 inches of snow holds an inch of water. But as anyone who has shoveled the stuff will tell you, there's snow (light and fluffy), and there's snow (wetter and heavier). Over at the CoCoRaHS blog (no, it's not a breakfast cereal), there's a tidy discussion of the range of snow-to-water values for the Rockies.

Suffice it to say that water managers are more interested in water-content numbers than in mere snow depth alone.

One long-term outlook

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