Snow is more than just pretty powder covering the Sierra Nevada.
It is a natural reservoir that, when melted, helps provide water for drinking, for crops and for hydroelectric power.
In simpler terms, snowmelt provides us with water, food and electricity.
For Pacific Gas & Electric Co., knowing how much water will be coming out of the mountains helps the power company plan for spring and summer runoff through its hydroelectric power plants.
Bee photographer John Walker accompanied hydrographer Matthew Meadows and communication representative Evelyn Escalera on a helicopter ride into the Sierra to measure snow levels and water content at sites in the Kings River watershed, including a spot at 10,300 feet.
The annual survey was much more promising this year, with snow and water levels closer to average than they have been in the five years of the state’s drought. The snowpack is typically at its deepest on April 1 before the snow melts in the warmer months, rushing down streams and rivers into lakes and reservoirs.
PG&E’s 67 powerhouses have a total generating capacity of 3.89 megawatts, enough to meet the needs of nearly 4 million homes. Historically, about 37 percent of the water that passes through PG&E’s powerhouses comes from snowpack; the remainder is a combination of rainfall and groundwater, according to PG&E meteorologist John Lindsey.
Melted snow from throughout the Sierra also provides roughly one-third of the water consumed by thirsty cities and farms in the nation’s leading agricultural and most populous state.