By James Green
ANGELS CAMP — Soaring over 11,000 foot peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, the result of this year’s wet winter can be seen as far the eye can see. Snow, and lots of it.
Last week, PG&E’s Jocelyn Beaudette, Phil Benning and Tim Matthews flew via helicopter to conduct a snow survey at 8,900 feet in Alpine County. PG&E conducts four snow surveys each year beginning in January at multiple high altitude locations to test the snow water content.
Aluminum tubes are plunged into the snow at certain intervals to measure the snow depth. On this day, the team used a tube nearly twice as long as the previous year.
“We have quite a bit more snow this year than the last several years,” says Beaudette, a hydrographer. “I think we’re all very grateful for it.”
The results were impressive — 200 percent of normal at this location and about 170 percent of normal statewide. By comparison, the snowpack was 6 percent of normal two years ago.
“We’ve seen everything from this type of year, which is really heavy snowpack with a lot of moisture content in it,” says Benning, a PG&E meteorological instrument repairperson. “A couple three years ago we had the drought years there and those were pretty light samples. They weren’t very deep at all.”
But depth is only part of the equation. By measuring the weight of the snow sample, combined with the depth, hydrographers can determine the water content of the snowpack.
“If you look over the landscape you can imagine seven feet of standing water,” says Beaudette.
And it’s that snowmelt that’s the source of hydroelectric power, an important source of clean energy for PG&E’s customers. Hydropower accounts for about 15 percent of their electricity needs.
Says Beaudette: “The snow is so important for our hydro operations because it is the stored energy that makes its way through the water system and eventually down into and through our hydroelectric power plants where we are able to generate clean green hydroelectric power.”
Despite this shaping up to be one of the wettest winters in 122 years of record keeping, the governor has not yet declared an end to California’s historic drought. Accordingly, PG&E will remain vigilant and continue to wisely manage its water resources for the benefit of the environment, water users, recreation and power generation.
Hydrographers will conduct another survey in late April to get final readings from this historically wet winter.
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.