The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) will conduct its second snow survey of the season at 11 a.m., Thursday near Lake Tahoe.

Phillips Station at Highway 50 and Sierra at Tahoe Road, about 90 miles east of Sacramento, is the manual survey location.

Snow depth and water content figures should be available by noon. This survey is the second of five monthly measurements that help water supply planners estimate the amount of spring snowmelt runoff into reservoirs.

California’s snowpack water content is particularly significant this year because the state has endured two years of drought and reservoirs are low. Because less-than-normal water supply conditions exist, the initial State Water Project (SWP) allocation for 2009 was placed at only 15 percent of water contractors’ requested amounts. The results of this survey will impact future allocations. Precipitation to date is at only 77 percent of normal statewide, threatening another dry year, while unseasonably warm and dry conditions are rapidly eroding the snowpack.

Besides dry conditions, regulatory restrictions to protect native fish species are severely impacting SWP deliveries. Most recently, the National Marine Fisheries Service released a draft of its Biological Opinion (BiOp) to protect salmon and steelhead, which could further reduce water delivery. Previous restrictions include the Fish and Wildlife Service BiOp to protect Delta smelt that could reduce deliveries from 20 percent to 50 percent.

Regardless of snowpack conditions, it is clear water deliveries through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will remain in jeopardy because of regulatory uncertainty. DWR is working towards a comprehensive solution that must include additional water storage and alternate conveyance. These measures would increase water supply reliability for farms and businesses, and benefit fisheries. Alternate conveyance would allow water deliveries, while avoiding pumping hazards to the most sensitive fish species.