Northern Nevada Continues In Drought Condition

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Another lackluster winter has northern Nevada facing a fifth year of drought, experts said.

Though the winter season got off to a promising start, the storms largely dried up after the first of the year. What snow did fall in the Sierra was followed by periods of warm, dry conditions that quickly diminished the snowpack.

Thursday marked the end of the northern Nevada's traditional wet season.

In the central Sierra, the snowpack Wednesday was about 80 percent of normal for the date, down from about 120 percent a month ago.

"We needed a decent year to get things going again, but we didn't make up for all those dry years," Gary Barbato, hydrologist for the National Weather Service, told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "It's the fifth dry year in a row."

The official water year lasts from Oct. 1 to the end of September but the vast majority of the region's rain and snow falls during the six-month period ending March 31.

During that time, 5.15 inches of precipitation fell in Reno, slightly above average amounts of 5.08 inches, according to the weather service.

In Tahoe City, only 22.42 inches of rain and melted snow was measured, or 83 percent of average. Heavy snowfall in December was followed by a dry January. February storms boosted the snowpack to above-average levels, but a warm and dry March quickly melted the snow.

In March, 1.26 inches of precipitation fell in Reno, 147 percent of average. But Tahoe City saw only 0.94 inches, or 21 percent of the average amount of 4.57 inches.

"Unfortunately, Reno's ahead of the mountains, which is where we really want the water to be," Barbato said.

On Wednesday, the Truckee River Basin's snowpack was measured at 84 percent of normal, the same measurement for the same day in 2003. Lake Tahoe's snowpack was measured at 76 percent compared with 59 percent on March 29, 2003.

Last year, an unusually wet April dumped as much as 10 feet of snow in the Sierra, significantly improving the snowpack and the water supplies for which it provides.

But forecasters say a repeat of last year's "awesome April" appears unlikely.

"I guess we can always hope we get another wet April but it's not really looking like that," Barbato said.

There's plenty of water to serve the Reno-Sparks area during the coming summer but the area may be forced to dip into reserve supplies stored in Donner and Independence lakes, said Lori Williams, general manager of the Truckee Meadows Water Authority.

That hasn't been necessary since the seven-year drought of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"This puts us about where we've been the last few years, maybe a little bit worse," Williams said. "We'd like to not dip into the drought supplies but that's what they're there for."

Challenging times probably are ahead in meeting the water needs of Carson City, which doesn't have the upstream reservoir storage enjoyed by Reno-Sparks.

No dams or reservoirs exist along the Carson River upstream of Lake Lahontan and Carson City sometimes has trouble meeting demand for water during peak summer days.

The capital city will have to rely more on ground water wells which have experienced diminished levels in recent years and "system juggling to get water where its needed" over the summer, said Tom Hoffert, Carson City's utility operations manager.

"I would anticipate this will be a much harder year for Carson City to comfortably meet its water needs," Hoffert said.