Better measurement for snowpack?

Apr 19, 2010 Full story:

-------------- MARGOT WHOLEY/Special to the Bee ----------->>

Ryan Dewitt, an undergrauduate research assistant, left, and Bob Rice of UC Merced work with the new equipment as they take snowpack readings in Yosemite.

Scientists say they've found a way to make a more accurate runoff forecast.

Sunday, Apr. 18, 2010
By Mark Grossi / The Fresno Bee

Farmers and water officials throughout California wait anxiously each year for forecasts about snowmelt roaring down the Sierra's granite canyons - precious water for the long summer.

But the forecasts are only estimates, based on averages of past seasons, snow-sensor readings and monthly measurements from key mountain meadows above big rivers. The forecast sometimes is wrong, leaving farmers with too much or too little water later in the growing season.

One big reason: Nobody measures snow around jagged ridges, plunging ravines and deep forests in the 400-mile-long Sierra. That's a huge swath of the high country where the size of the snowpack is unknown. As the climate warms and snowfall dwindles this century, officials will need to measure more of the Sierra to improve runoff forecasts for farmers and the growing population, say scientists at the University of California at Merced.

The researchers think they've found a way to do it by expanding monitoring around the existing remote sensors, called snow pillows, which are mostly in flat meadows. Scientists propose to surround the pillows with instruments to daily check snow levels all over the landscape.

Some day, there could be thousands of these instruments in the Sierra.

"We're hoping to design a new system of doing things up there," said engineering professor Roger Bales. As head of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at UC Merced, Bales has worked on this idea for five years at Gin Flat in Yosemite National Park.

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#1 May 5, 2010

Water forecast boosted for west Valley farmers

Tuesday, May. 04, 2010
By Mark Grossi / The Fresno Bee

With a thick Sierra snowpack and reservoirs slowly filling, federal officials on Tuesday boosted the water forecast to 40% of contract levels for west San Joaquin Valley farmers.

It was good news for west-siders who were told in February to expect only 5% of their Central Valley Project allotments, due to drought and federal protections for dying fish in Northern California.

The increase on Tuesday was the second in three weeks. The U.S. Department of Interior had announced a 30% estimate of deliveries last month as April storms pounded California.

At this point, the additional water doesn't necessarily mean more acreage in production on the Valley's west side, but it will allow farmers to use less ground water.

"We might be able to get additional fall lettuce acreage if we can get contracts," said spokeswoman Sarah Woolf of Westlands Water District, the project's largest customer. "But the additional water is very important in terms of protecting ground water, and we're grateful."

The state also announced deliveries would be boosted to 40% for State Water Project customers -- the largest of which are in Southern California and Kern County.

State officials said even though the Sierra snowpack is the largest since 2006 -- 149% of average for this time of year -- California reservoirs are still recovering from three drought years.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the water increase on the federal project was achieved through deals with water-rich east Valley districts, more precise operation of the CVP at the delta and capturing excess flows from the San Joaquin River restoration.

"While this improvement is welcome news," Salazar said Tuesday, "California's Central Valley is still struggling to overcome the effects of three years of drought and water system operational constraints needed to address water quality and fish species of concern in the delta."

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