“How high’s the water mama?”
“Five feet high and rising.”
Runoff season is turning into a sprint, but the finish line is still a long way off.
The latest snow pillow readings peg the Eastern Sierra snowpack at 161% of the April 1 “normal” reading. The current snow load contains about 36 inches of water content, according to the latest data from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. That reading on May 23 puts the remaining snowpack at about half of the April 1 record reading of 300% of average with about 68 inches of water content.
Compared to the 2016-17 snow year, the second largest on record with about 50 inches of water equivalent on April 1, this year’s runoff is taking longer to actually run off. By the end of May in 2017, the snowpack was nearly gone, with roughly 15 inches of snow/water left in the Sierra.
Streams from Mono Basin to Lone Pine continue to carry the snowmelt out of the Sierra and are running cold, fast and bank-to-bank. The high-water is expected to continue well into June.
The biggest caches of snow in the Sierra are in Mono County. The LADWP snow pillow reading for Gem Pass is still a stunning 269% of the April 1 normal, with about 92 inches of water content waiting to run off. Mammoth Pass is at about 204% of April 1 average, with about 87 inches of water equivalent still waiting for a downhill run.
The amount of water flowing in the Owens River before it pours into Crowley Lake is another indicator of the slower pace of snowmelt in Mono County. For most of May the Owens River was running at about 60-70 cubic feet per second. On May 24, the river hit 117 cfs. With Hot Creek and McGee creeks also taking their time to ramp up, LADWP has been able to lower the level of Crowley Lake in anticipation of the runoff yet to arrive. The reservoir is more than 22 feet below capacity, and still dropping as of May 24.
Further south, the amount of snow/water left is dwindling, but still topping the “normal” April 1 readings that, in average years, were when the snowpack peaked. Snow left in Rock Creek and Sawmill is at about 100% of the April 1 normal, with under 20 inches of water content. Big Pine Creek (34 inches of water) and Cottonwood Lakes (20 inches of water) are still showing hefty snow loads, at 196% and 165% of April 1 averages.
The high water in streams, creeks and canals has prompted LADWP and Inyo and Mono counties to plead, beg, scold and warn visitors and residents not to tempt fate or test the power of flowing water by driving through flooded roads or playing around, swimming in, or floating down the Owens River and other creeks and streams.
As Mr. Cash reminds one and all:
“We got to head for higher ground,
“We can’t come back till the water comes down…
“Well it’s five feet high and rising.”