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March storms leave so-so snowpack in the north and a cliffhanger on the San Joaquin River

 •  by Lois Henry
Mountains above the South Fork of the Stanislaus River are coated with snow on March 18, 2020. Credit: Lois Henry

March wasn’t exactly miraculous this year but it did OK by California’s snowpack, bringing it from a dismal 40-ish% of average up to above 60% of average in the northern Sierras.

The bump wasn’t so great in the southern Sierras where snowpack is still at 40% to 46% of average for the Kaweah, Kern and Kings river watersheds, according to Department of Water Resources runoff forecasts compiled as of March 24. The Tule River watershed is clocking in at a dire 27% of average, according to the DWR forecast.

Meanwhile, in the center of the state, March storms left a watershed a cliffhanger on the San Joaquin River.

Per a 2006 legal settlement, the river gets more or less water for environmental “restoration flows” depending on the type of water year.

“We’re right on the knife’s edge between a critical high or dry year,” explained Peter Vorster, a hydrologist and hydrogeographer with The Bay Institute, a party to the San Joaquin River settlement agreement.

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