Historic Posts, Camps, Stations, and Airfields
Central Sierra Snow Laboratory
by Sgt. Maj. Dan Sebby
This Site was known as the Castle Creek Drainage of the Tahoe National Forest, the Central Sierra Snow Laboratory Project, and the Castle Creek Snow Project.

Starting in 1945, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) obtained 1633.2 acres through leases from James Sherritt and Dorothy Agnes Linn (922.85 acres), the Southern Pacific Land Company (650.1 acres), the Sierra Club (60 acres) and the Donner Summit Company (0.10 acre). On 19 January 1948, an additional 1020.40 acres was obtained through a permit from the USDA Forest Service. The laboratory was jointly operated by the USACE's Snow, Ice and Permafrost Research Establishment (SIPRE) (now the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory), the USDA, and the Weather Bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce (after 1965 known as the Environmental Science Services Administration [ESSA] and after 1969 known as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA]). The Site was used by the USACE for collecting information about precipitation, snowfall, snow depth and temperature as they relate to water supply and flood control.

The USACE built two buildings on the Site. A 1,440 square foot redwood clad building that housed a laboratory, office, and living quarters was built on the 2.85 acre parcel on the outskirts of the town of Soda Springs. Additionally, a 480 square foot garage for the laboratory's vehicles was built on the 0.10 acre parcel adjacent to the then U.S. Highway 40, now Donner Pass Road. Researchers manually collected various measurements and stored the data it in a database.

On 1 August 1954, the USACE issued a special use permit to the USDA, Forest Service for the period of one year pending a formal transfer of the Site to that agency. The reason for the year long permit was due to the acquisition costs and the possible relocation of the then U.S. Highway 40 through the watershed area.

The USACE reported to the General Services Administration (GSA) that all of the leased and permitted property was excess to their need on 18 November 1954. The report contained a recommendation that the Site be formally transferred to the control of the USDA, Forest Service in its entirety.

In a memorandum from the Director of the Real Property Disposal Division of the Public Building Service (PBS), GSA in Washington D.C., to the Chief of the San Francisco PBS Real Property Disposal Division, dated 25 January 1956, it was stated that the Sierra Snow Lab was transferred from the USACE to the USDA, Forest Service on 17 November 1955. In a 24 November 1954 letter from the Office of the Sacramento District Engineer, USACE to GSA in San Francisco, it was stated that it was the intent of the USDA, Forest Service to continue the USACE negotiated leases which were set to expire on 30 June 1957. Today, the Sierra Snow Lab is operated by the University of California, Berkeley under the supervision of the Vice Chancellor for Research under an agreement with the USDA, Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Research Station in Albany, CA and in cooperation with the California Department of Water Resources.

Currently, researchers staff the snow lab year-round. Physical attributes of the laboratory currently include the main USACE built building with office space, an electronics workroom, a wet chemistry lab/darkroom, kitchen, bath, and 3 bedrooms. Support facilities include a Sno-Cat garage with wood- and metal-working shops, a paint shed, and a generator building. The snow study site (located in a 50 meter diameter natural clearing) adjacent to the lab building features a wide array of hydrometeorological instruments, all wired to data loggers inside the main building. This Site has three instrument towers from 7 to 11 meters tall. A small instrument tower is located 100 meters north of Lab in a forested area.

The Sierra Snow Lab maintains an archives dating from 1878 to 1945, and from 1952 to 1957, with data measured and supplied by the Southern Pacific Transportation Company. Snowpack and snowfall measurements were taken at Summit Station from 1878 through 1927, and at Norden from 1927 on. In addition to the land owned by the USDA, Forest Service, the lands that made up the USACE's Sierra Snow Lab are currently owned by the Auburn Ski Club, the William J. Pendola, Sr. Trust, Flaggriculture, Inc., and the State of California (Right of Way for Interstate Highway 80).



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Updated 23 June 2017