Surveyors measured the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada in January 2014, and the results are more proof of Nevada and California’s severe drought: The California Department of Water Resources said the snowpack was 12 percent of average for this time of the year, the lowest level since electronic record-keeping began in 1960 . Prior to today, the lowest comparable snowpack reading was January 1991, when accumulated Sierra snowfall was 21 percent of average. This year, snowpack levels in the northern section of the Sierra were 6 percent of average levels.
If we don’t get several significant storms to create a reasonable snowpack by April 1, we’re going to be looking at runoff values into the streams that quite possibly are going to hit historic all-time lows.
Nevada’s severe drought is a tragedy unfolding in slow motion. But its effects will be far reaching — from rural communities that depend on ranching and agriculture for their existence to the prices we all pay for food at the grocery store.
For the third year in a row, the rain and snow has not come on time. Some longtime ranchers and farmers say the current drought is the worst they have ever seen.
Because of the stingy snowpack through much of the West, federal officials this past month designated portions of 11 Western and Central states as primary natural disaster areas including Nevada.
Some Nevada ranchers have already sold some of their cattle, primarily to their counterparts in the Midwest, where there are healthy grazing lands. The sales are mostly a precautionary move to take advantage of high cattle prices and to reduce herds if normal water deliveries don’t materialize. On a recent Tuesday, about 400 cattle from around the state and even neighboring California were up for auction at a yard.
Alfalfa is Nevada’s largest crop, with just more than 1 million tons worth $217 million produced in 2012. Cattle and dairy cows are also important. There were 470,000 cattle and 29,000 dairy cows in Nevada in 2012, the state Agriculture Department reports. Many people don’t seem to understand the connection between alfalfa and food production, or the relationship between farms and the food they buy in the grocery store.
Additionally, closer to the Sierra’s, tourism is key to the economy. Drought conditions are wreaking havoc on the winter sporting activities so vital to our livelihood in northwestern Nevada. Continued drought will impact tourism in the Reno/Tahoe area during the summer as well with lake levels well below normal and dry conditions yielding threats of wildfire in the Tahoe basin. Should the lake drop far enough, the Truckee River will slow to a trickle impacting fish and wildlife as well as the beautiful backdrop it offers to visitors and locals during the outdoor summer events held in downtown Reno.
So, when venturing out for a meal, a trip to the market or mini-vacation, think local first. There are many fine choices in restaurants, farmer’s markets and nearby tourist attractions that benefit our own local economy in this beautiful area we call home, drought or no drought.