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California snowpack holding twice amount of water than average

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Posted: Wednesday, December 29, 2010 6:52 am | Updated: 7:57 am, Wed Dec 29, 2010.

The Department of Water Resources conducted its first snow survey of the season Tuesday and found the snowpack in California's mountains is holding nearly twice as much water than average for this time of year.

The heavy snowpack across the 400-mile-long Sierra Nevada range means the state will likely be able to boost water deliveries next year to cities and farms coping with a recent drought.

The agency previously projected the state will deliver half of the water requested next year. The latest results mean the allocation is almost certain to rise, providing some relief to the state's water shortage.

"This boosts our hopes that we will have an adequate water supply for our cities and farms as we continue to shake off effects of the 2007-09 drought," Mark Cowin, the department's director, said in a statement.

The final amount of water that can be delivered to 25 million Californians and nearly 1 million acres of farmland will largely depend on how the weather develops into spring. Tuesday's snow survey was the first of five that will be conducted for the season.

The state delivered 35 percent of the water requested in 2008, 40 percent in 2009 and 50 percent this year. The last time the state was able to deliver 100 percent of allocation was in 1996.

Even in wet years, allocations are hard to achieve because of pumping restrictions in the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta to protect a threatened fish.

Frank Gehrke, the department's snow survey section chief, warned that while the initial results look great, it's too soon to tell how the season will end because of the climate phenomenon known as La Nina. La Nina usually brings drier months later in the season.

"We don't know if this is a wrinkle in the pattern, or if we're going to get lower storm activity later on in the winter," Gehrke said.

Most of the state's major reservoirs are near or above normal levels for this time of year. Lake Oroville, the State Water Project's principal reservoir in Butte County, is at 95 percent of normal, holding 2.1 million acre-feet of water. The lake last filled to its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity in 2003.

The latest survey found water content in the overall snowpack at 198 percent of normal. Electronic readings showed northern mountains at 169 percent of normal for this time of year, central mountains at 180 percent and southern mountains at 261 percent.

A manual survey conducted near Lake Tahoe at Philips Station registered 158 percent of normal water content in 56 inches of snow.

The statewide snowpack was 85 percent of normal this time last year.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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