A disappointing Sierra snowpack prompted the state department of water resources last week to declare a statewide "drought watch."

The declaration means California is entering a lean water year, but "it is unlike that many cities will dust off rationing plans this summer," the resources department said in a press release.

Reached for comment, Chester M. Winn, chief of the department's division of fiscal services, said, "We don't expect any defaults, or anything like that, because of the drought watch."

The department, with about $3 billion of obligations outstanding, "got through five years of drought without any defaults," said Winn, whose division administers capital project long-term financings. "One year isn't going to give us any problems."

The snowpack, a winter's accumulation of slow-melting packed snow that supplies water to much of California, was 60% below average in March. By comparison, 1993's snow-pack was 50% above average, producing a heavy runoff that filled the state's reservoirs and ended a multiyear statewide drought emergency.

As of April 25, storage in major reservoirs averaged nearly 90% of capacity. However, demands in excess of snow-melt runoff will deplete the reservoirs. In turn, this will reduce carryover storage for next year.

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