In what still feels like winter, with small hills of snow here and there in parking lots around town, the Reno Gazette-Journal ran the following headline yesterday:  “Officials: Reno-Sparks area will have plenty of water, despite low snowpack.”  Why would we think about snowpack in early March?  Why would we think about our water and snowpack at all?    

As it turns out, snowpack provides most of Reno/Spark’s water supply.  Actually, snowpack provides most of the west’s water supply.  Mountain snowpack stores water that slowly melts and is released into rivers as temperatures rise during spring and into summer.  Across the west, irrigation for agriculture as well as hydro-electric power generation rely on water from melting snowpack. 

Locally, we see reservoirs like Boca, Stampede, and Prosser fill during spring as snow melts.  Summer recreation is a perk, but the purpose of these reservoirs is to slowly release water into the Truckee River for Reno/Sparks to use year-round.  Hint – our drinking water comes from the Truckee River, so stay tuned for a blog on that.    

Now that we have a few reasons to think about snowpack, why think about it in early March?  What prompted the headline?  The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) measures mountain snowpack at many locations multiple times throughout the year.  On March 1st, the NRCS measured snowpack at Mount Rose at about 65% of normal.  

See the tower, antennae, and solar panels behind my left shoulder? That’s where Mt. Rose snowpack is measured. Selfie by me!

So what?  After all, locals say, “don’t plant tomatoes until the snow’s off Peavine.”  Snow can stick around on Peavine into June, right?  Sure, it sticks around but it doesn’t necessarily keep accumulating.  Fortunately, reservoirs store several years’ worth of water, so even though our snowpack is lower than normal, we don’t need to worry for now.  In the Biggest Little City of bets, early March is a snowpack gamble.  Our 65% of normal on March 1st could be the best measurement all year… unless… Miracle March!

What’s Miracle March?  Find out in the next blog!    

Listed here are just a few reasons to think about snowpack.   There are many more and if you would like to read about snowpack across the west, riverflow, temperature, and climate, check out this website on “The Importance of Mountain Snowpack to Water Resources.”