Like many US states, California relies on spring snow melt to replenish its water supply.

But the state’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) published the results of a survey of winter weather conditions which show that snow in California’s mountains will provide far less water than average.

Across the state snow water content is just 61% of the norm for this time of year, while in certain localized areas it is at less than 50%.

Reservoir levels are also already low, with the state’s biggest single source of water, Lake Oroville, containing less than half the water that it should.

“The low precipitation in January and snowpack results from today’s survey indicate California is heading for a third dry year,” said the appropriately named DWR director Lester Snow.

“We may be at the start of the worst California drought in modern history. It’s imperative for Californians to conserve water immediately at home and in their businesses.”

Local water agencies are updating their water management plans while DWR is facilitating what water transfers may be available through its Drought Water Bank program.

Many providers have already enacted mandatory or voluntary water rationing and it is likely more agencies will require some form of rationing if dry conditions persist.

With only two months left in what is normally the wettest part of the season, it is growing increasingly unlikely that enough precipitation will fall to end the drought.

The winter survey does not always provide the full picture of what the summer holds, of course.

At this time last year snowpack water levels were at 111% of the norm, but an exceptionally dry spring led to extensive drought across the state.

Sam Bond

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