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Nevada Snow Pack Is Behind After A Strange Winter

Credit: Bert Johnson, KNPR

Jeff Anderson of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service takes a snow pack measurement in Mount Rose Wilderness in January 2020.

Nevada is about to enter the dry season.

The state depends on snow that collects in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado to fill Lake Mead, which is the main source of Las Vegas' drinking water.

And in Northern Nevada, snowmelt from the Eastern Sierra range fills reservoirs that Reno-Sparks depends on.

Jeff Anderson is a Water Supply Specialist for the USDA, he’s based in Reno.

We spoke to him in January, after he did his first snow survey of the season. Back then, he said the snowpack looked pretty good, but now, the news is not as good.

He said the snowstorms stopped. 

"We had one of the driest Januarys and Februarys on record and it didn't really start picking up again until recently in mid-March," Anderson said.

While January and February weren't great months for snow, the late winter-early spring storms did help. Anderson said on March 1 the totals were at about 50 percent of median but by April 1 the pack was up to 70 percent of median for Truckee and Carson basins.

"It's kind of a mixed bag across Nevada," he said, "If we just talk about the Eastern Sierra, a 70 percent of median snowpack is certainly below normal so you would expect less than normal runoff as well this spring."

There is some positive news. Anderson noted that reservoirs are still full from a big runoff year last year. He said Lake Tahoe won't fill up this year but will still have plenty of water for the area.

He is concerned about the Walker water basin because it doesn't have as much water stored up in its reservoirs.

Down south, Anderson said the latest estimates for runoff to feed the Colorado River and eventually Lake Mead are at about 80 percent of average.

Because of that expected shortfall, Anderson said that Southern Nevada's continuing conservation efforts are vital to making sure the area has enough water.

The northeast part of Nevada has actually done the best for precipitation this year, according to Anderson.

But he points out that we really shouldn't expect too much when it comes precipitation in Nevada.

"This is the driest state in the country and I don't know if expecting to get 170 percent of median snowpack every year is very realistic," he said, "But those big boom years those really do save us in these shortage years."

Jeff Anderson, Snow Survey Hydrologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA

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Bert is a reporter and producer based in Reno, where he covers the state legislature and stories that resonate across Nevada. He began his career in journalism after studying abroad during the summer of 2011 in Egypt, during the Arab Spring. Before he joined Nevada Public Radio and Capital Public Radio, Bert was a contributor at KQED and the Sacramento News & Review. He was also a photographer, video editor and digital producer at the East Bay Express.