Two years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown stood on a patch of bare Sierra dirt that should have been covered in feet of snow and declared the state was in a “historic drought.”
Things couldn’t be more different this year as the state enters the traditional start of its long dry season.
On Thursday, the state recorded 94 inches of snow where Brown stood in 2015 at the Phillips Station off Highway 50 in the Sierra. Melted down, that would be the equivalent of 46 inches of water.
The readings represent 183 percent of the long-term average at that particular measuring station. Statewide, the Sierra snowpack is 164 percent of average.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The water locked up in all that snow represents the most since 2011, the year before California entered its driest four-year period on record. Last year, snow conditions substantially improved, but not enough to be considered a drought breaker.
“We’ve got a very substantial snowpack,” said Frank Gehrke, the veteran Department of Water Resources official who runs the state’s snow survey.
In spite of one of the wettest winters on record, Brown has yet to declare the drought over. Due to Brown’s emergency drought order in 2015, state water regulators continue to require urban water providers to hit self-imposed drought conservation targets.
Asked Thursday whether he thought the measurements might prompt the governor’s office to declare the drought over, Gehrke replied: “We’ve heard there’s going to be more on that next week, in terms of what direction that exactly is going to go.”
A healthy snowpack means extra water becomes available in summer, when California lawns and crops get thirsty and demand soars.
Brown administration officials have said that in spite of lots of snow and abundant water in the state’s major reservoirs this winter, the effects of the drought persist due to the long-term depletion of groundwater basins and other problems.