Early Snow Thaw Heightens California Summer Energy Concerns

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Early Snow Thaw Heightens Summer Energy Concerns

Carl Nolte, Chronicle Staff Writer Saturday, March 31, 2001 2001 San Francisco Chronicle

URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2001/03/31/MN88930.DTL

Beautiful spring weather has started to melt the winter snowpack, dimming hopes that California's energy grid will get much help from hydroelectric power this summer.

Measurements taken yesterday show that the snowpack is only about 60 percent of normal, which means last winter will go in the books as a dry one, said Frank Gehrke, chief of the state's snow survey.

The snow is supposed to be deepest at the end of March, which is usually the last of the winter season in the mountains.

"It feels like spring up there," said Gehrke, who went out on snowshoes to check the snowpack near Echo Summit on U.S. Highway 50. "It's warm and the sky is bright blue. The snowpack is starting to melt already."

A thin snowpack means that the state's hydroelectric production may fall a third below normal this summer, according to Maurice Roos, the state's chief hydrologist. Power generated from the spring runoff accounts for as much as a third of the state's electricity. Other power has been imported from the Pacific Northwest, which is experiencing a drought.

"This is a blow from Mother Nature," said Christy Dennis, a spokeswoman for the Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

John Harrison, a spokesman for the Northwest Power Planning Council, said the situation in the Northwest, which has had the driest winter in years, meant California could expect little help from the north. "It's unlikely there will be any power to ship south," he said.

Water from the melting snowpack is stored downstream in the state's network of reservoirs. Because the last seven years had average or well above average rain and snowfall, those reservoirs have normal storage for this time of year, Gehrke said.

However, nearly all of the state's reservoirs are multiple purpose facilities -- they store water for hydroelectric generation, for irrigation projects, for use in the cities and for environmental purposes such as providing enough water for fish and other species in the rivers.

The first users to feel the impact of a dry year will be the state's agriculture interests. Earlier this spring, the state Department of Water Resources and the Federal Reclamation Bureau warned of cuts in water supplies for irrigation.

Farmers are also major users of electric power, a situation that contributes to what the California Farm Bureau's Bob Krauter calls "a mountain of problems."

Meanwhile, in the mountains of California, the snow survey found that the water content of the snowpack ranged from half of what is normal around Lake Tahoe to 65 percent of normal in the southern Sierra, which has higher mountains -- and usually more snow.

The winter started with a dry December and January, and perked up with well above normal rain and snow in February. Water managers talked about "a March miracle," that might bail the state out. Instead, March precipitation was well below normal.

Now spring has set in. Two ski resorts -- Tahoe Donner and Diamond Peak Ski Resort announced that they will close for the season tomorrow.

Both Heavenly and Squaw Valley hope to keep open through May, though Northstar-at-Tahoe, Boreal Mountain and Sierra at Tahoe plan expect to close April 22.

"The meltdown is occurring," said Kelly Richmond at the Western Regional Climate Center. "We're pretty much on the downhill slide to summer."

Chronicle wire services contributed to this report. / E-mail Carl Nolte at cnolte@sfchronicle.com

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), March 31, 2001


If those chemtrails are supposed to be weather manipulators I don't think it's working. Or is this their intentions and it is working? Things that make ya go hmmmmmmm.......

-- NdewTyme (NdewTyme@Ndew.com), April 01, 2001.

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