PG&E performs monthly snow survey to determine hydroelectric power generation

Hydrographer Ted Baker measures snow pack near Lake Helen in Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Crews with PG&E traveled to Lassen Volcanic National Park for their monthly snow survey near Lake Helen Tuesday.

Spokesman Paul Moreno said these measurements are vital in planing out power generation during the summer months.

"The water we're standing on top of now will eventually run into the north fork of the Feather River. And from there it will run down into Lake Almanor, eventually through several power houses before reaching Lake Oroville," said Moreno.

66 power houses are located in California, the majority of which are located in the Northstate. Moreno said that's because the region has the largest rivers which allows the same water to run through multiple power houses before heading out to the Pacific Ocean.

The measurements taken around April 1 are the most important because the snow pack is typically at it's peak. Moreno adds the snow water equivalent (SWE) helps to determine how much hydroelectric power they can generate.

During a dry year the company must juggle electricity resources like wind, solar, natural gas and biomass to make up the difference. Moreno explanied, "With more water this year we're expecting some pretty good hydroelectric power production, especially during the peak periods of summer when demand is high."

Snow surveys from PG&E are just a small fraction of this year's snow pack. The process is exactly the same as the surveys from the California Department of Water Resources. Combine those with the automated snow sensors scattered across the state and the picture becomes clearer.

As of Tuesday the statewide average SWE was 58 percent of normal. The northern Sierra which includes the surveys from Lake Helen was 48 percent of normal.

PG&E Hydrographer Ted Baker said in his opinion the Lake Helen site is the most difficult. "Because it is consistently the deepest," added Baker.

During Tuesday's survey the snow depth averaged around 11 feet. That's about half of what the depth was last year but Baker said it was better than the survey from February.

"The exposure to the sun right here, it will melt. When it snows it will melt down and make an ice layer and then you'll get more snow going on top of that. So you'll get multiple layers of ice that you have to bust through," said Baker.

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