Frank Gehrke

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Survey Program for the Department of Water Resources, leaves a snow-covered meadow after the second snow survey of the year near Echo Summit, Calif. Gehrke said that while recent snow fall will help bolster the depleted snowpack, it is not enough to affect the water supply. (Associated Press / January 30, 2014)

By Bettina Boxall
January 30, 2014, 5:55 p.m.

Even with the first significant storm in nearly two months dropping snow on the Sierra Nevada, Thursday’s mountain snowpack measurements were the lowest for the date in more than a half-century of record keeping.

At 12% of average for this time of year, the dismal statewide snowpack underscored the severity of a drought that is threatening community water supplies and leaving farm fields in many parts of California barren.

As snow survey crews worked, Gov. Jerry Brown met with Southern California water leaders as part of a series of drought meetings he is holding around the state.

“Every day this drought goes on, we’re going to have to tighten the screws on what people are doing,” Brown said in brief remarks before the private meeting with regional water managers at the downtown Los Angeles headquarters of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Brown earlier this month declared a state drought emergency and called on all Californians to cut water use by 20%. “Make no mistake,” he said Thursday. “This drought is a big wake-up call and a reminder that we do depend on natural systems. It’s not just going to the store.”

Thanks to billions of dollars of ratepayer investments in regional water storage projects and conservation programs, Southern California is in a stronger position than much of the rest of the state. “We spent 20 years preparing for a drought like this,” MWD General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said.

The agency, which supplies the Southland with water from the Colorado River and Northern California, has no plans to impose rationing this year. But Kightlinger is asking the MWD board to issue a formal alert, emphasizing Brown’s call for conservation, and wants the board to dip into the agency’s general reserve fund to double annual conservation spending to $40 million.

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