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Snow storage levels boost water supply optimism

By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn and the Sierra Nevada are drying out after a late-2010 surge in rain and snow. But the outlook is still filled with hope that the last few days of relatively dry conditions don’t signal a long-term change in the weather. Sunshine is in the forecast Tuesday and Wednesday, with temperatures above average at 67 degrees. Over the season so far, Auburn has recorded 24.25 inches of rain compared to 15.1 inches last year and a seasonal average of 18.07 inches. A series of storms has correspondingly left the Sierra with plenty of snow to boost the water supply outlook for the coming year. The U.S. Department of the Interior is already predicting that if present conditions continue, agricultural, municipal and industrial water contractors customers, as well as wildlife refuges, are likely to receive increased water allocations. For the effort to restore a salmon run in the Auburn Ravine, increased runoff from more water and snow storage in the Sierra is good news. Jack Sanchez, Save Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead president and volunteer coordinator, said Monday that higher water levels should give the fish a better chance of moving upstream. “The snowpack is going to bode well for this coming fall because that’s the time when they want as much water as possible,” Sanchez said. Sanchez said the lull in the rain and snow should be only temporary with March historically the best month for snowfall still to come. The California Department of Water Resources’ first snow survey of the water year in late December reported snow water content to be 198 percent of normal statewide – compared with 85 percent of normal on the first snow survey of the previous year. Precipitation in Northern California is currently about 68 percent of the seasonal average compared to 33 percent last year at this time – with at least four more normally wet months to go. In addition, the snow water content in the Northern Sierra is about 174 percent of average for this time of year. Conditions are also looking good for water storage at Placer County Water Agency reservoirs in the Sierra. Pacific Gas & Electric is forecasting an above-average runoff year for both the French Meadows and Hell Hole basins. Jon Mattson, water agency hydro engineer, said Hell Hole should reach full capacity in June and French Meadows should reach its federally mandated upper limit the same month.