Following three of the driest months on record, California’s snowpack levels are well below average and the outlook for water deliveries continues to be grim.

Officials from the California Department of Water Resources conducted their annual April 1 Sierra Nevada snowpack survey and found that levels are just 38 percent of average.

“We have less snow right now than we did at this time last year,” said Sean de Guzman, manager of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit.

Standing on a conspicuously dry patch of ground at Philips Station in El Dorado County, where the snowpack is usually 5 feet deep or so, de Guzman said the measurement of snow at that location was 2.5 inches on Friday, with a water content of 1 inch — just 4 percent of average for that location.

Just last month, a similar survey at the same location found a snow depth of 35 inches and a snow water equivalent of 16 inches, about 68 percent of average for the beginning of March.

Statewide, the mountain snowpack water content stands at 44 percent, de Guzman said.

“The big unknown is how much of that water will actually make into the reservoirs,” he said.

The California Department of Water Resources discusses results of its fourth media snow survey, conducted April 1. (Video by Joshua Baar/DWR)

High and dry

The lack of a robust snowpack means that springtime snow melt and runoff into reservoirs is expected to once again fall below needs.

As of Friday, the state’s reservoirs were holding about 70 percent of the typical amount of water for this time of year and it is unlikely any major storms will roll through the state until the rainy season comes back in the fall.

“I would say we were hoping for better conditions,” said DWR director Karla Nemeth. “There is growing evidence that suggests that perhaps this drought is actually a continuation of that very dry period we experienced several years ago.”

“The big unknown is how much of that water will actually make into the reservoirs.”

Sean de Guzman, Department of Water Resources

The ongoing drought has already led to severe water restrictions from both the state and federally run water storage and delivery systems.

In February, urban and industrial water users on the federal Central Valley Project were told they would likely receive only 25 percent of their water allocations and farmers were told they’d get nothing from that system.

The federal system is run by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and supplies water to more than 3 million acres of farmland and about 2.5 million residents.

On March 18, DWR announced that could fulfill just 5 percent of requested water deliveries from the State Water Project, which serves 27 million residents and 750,000 acres of farmland.

Many water districts have already implemented voluntary conservation measures and Gov. Gavin Newsom called on all state residents to decrease usage by 15 percent — although that goal has yet to be met.

Kiley Russell writes primarily for Local News Matters on issues related to equity and the environment. A Bay Area native, he has lived most of his life in Oakland. He studied journalism at San Francisco State University, worked for the Associated Press and the former Contra Costa Times, among other outlets. He has covered everything from state legislatures, local governments, federal and state courts, crime, growth and development, political campaigns of various stripes, wildfires and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.