Framework

L.A. Department of Water and Power snow surveys

Since 1926, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has conducted snow surveys in the eastern Sierra Nevada. Because the DWP gets over half of its water from the eastern Sierra, the surveys provide a vital projection of water available during the spring runoff.

Some years there’s plenty of snow; other years there’s little. The winter of 1976-77 was a drought year. Staff writer Jeff Stall reported in the Feb. 27, 1977, Los Angeles Times:

MAMMOTH LAKES – California’s largest storehouse of fresh water is a reservoir with no dams, no clearly defined shoreline, no waves lapping in the breeze.

This reservoir, critical to California’s waters supplies, is run by nature – and run very efficiently. It is the annual mountain snowpack that builds up through the long, cold winter months.

The tiny snow crystals undergo a silent transformation – compressing under their own weight, freezing, thawing, freezing again, evaporating.

And finally, with the warm spring sun, the snow melts and ultimately courses down the streams and into man’s own reservoirs with their dams and shorelines.

But this year is different.

“This year, there’s no winter,” said Chuck Seybert, who has toured the High Sierra snowfields for 28 years as an employee of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in the Owens Valley.

One of Seybert’s jobs is to measure the snowpack each month. The figures are compiled with those of fellow hydrographers into the spring stream runoff forecasts.

In the winter of 1976-77, Seybert is getting accustomed to the grim humor of a drought year. …

“What did you do, come up to measure nothing?” joked a friend as he approached Seybert.

Seybert responded with an unrecorded comment, but the grin on his tanned face indicated that it was good-natured. Later, the smile disappeared and Seybert said, “ Today, it’s a matter of seeing how bad we are.” …

The DWP surveys are part of the statewide California Cooperative Snow Survey program.

Three of the photos in the above gallery accompanied Stall’s February 1977 article. I’ve added a couple additional images from other Los Angeles Times coverage of  DWP snow surveys.

For more, check out the history of DWP snow surveys on the agency’s website.