After Historic Wet Winter, PG&E Team Measures Snowpack that Will Fuel Hydropower

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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. We have quite a bit more snow
this year than the last several years.
We’re sitting at approximately 200% of normal
and, I think we’re all very grateful for it. By comparison,
the snowpack was only six percent of normal two years ago.
A PG&E team recently 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’ve seen everything from this
type of year which is really heavy snowpack with a lot of moisture content
in it. 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. One sixty-two-five. 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 about seven feet of standing water. 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% of their electricity needs. 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. For Currents, I’m James Green.

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