California storms send billions of gallons of water into reservoirs


This weekend's soaking rains delivered just what drought-weary Northern California needed: billions of gallons of water pouring into the state's major reservoirs -- and more predicted for later this week. With rain totals reaching 10 inches or more in some mountain areas, 46 of the largest reservoirs in California, closely tracked by the state Department of Water Resources, collectively added 391 billion gallons of water between Friday and Monday morning -- enough for the needs of 6 million people for a year.

The reservoir list, which includes such massive lakes as Shasta, Oroville, Folsom, San Luis and New Melones, jumped in storage by 10 percent to 13.2 million acre feet, as powerful storms pouring off the Pacific sent torrents of water surging down creeks, rivers and hillsides.

Even with that increase, however, the 46 reservoirs bumped up from 66 percent of their historic average on Friday to just 72 percent now. Like somebody with a badly overdrawn checking account, California's lakes need a continued infusion to get back to normal.

"The weekend rains really pushed them up a great deal," said Doug Carlson, a spokesman for the state Department of Water Resources. "But we have been in a very deep hole. We need a lot more rain to fill these reservoirs."

Meanwhile, the Sierra snowpack only received a modest boost from the warm storms, increasing to 82 percent of normal.

More rain and snow is on the way, however. Another storm shaping up for Thursday is expected to deliver the Bay Area between 1.5 to 2 inches of rain, said Charles Bell, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.

"If it slowly moves through, we'll see much higher amounts," Bell said. "It's one everyone is going to keep an eye on as it gets a little closer."

While a few good storms do not end the drought, this winter already is emerging as the wettest in five years. Bay Area water officials said Monday they still expect there to be some water restrictions this summer, although those could be less stringent than rules last summer.

The state Water Resources Control Board plans to meet in mid-April after assessing how much rain and snow falls over the next six weeks. The board will decide whether to recommend whether Gov. Jerry Brown should change his emergency drought target, which currently requires urban water agencies to collectively cut water use by 25 percent statewide compared with 2014, a target they have met since last June.

"Everybody wants to know, 'Are we out of the drought?'" said Andrea Pook, a spokeswoman for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which serves 1.3 million residents in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. "The answer is we don't know yet. We'll know better in April. We'll see."

The weekend storm, which caused flooding on the San Lorenzo River and Soquel Creek in Santa Cruz County, made its impact across the state. Among the highlights:

The 10 reservoirs in Santa Clara County were 52 percent full Monday, up from 42 percent on Friday. Three of them, Vasona, Almaden and Stevens Creek, were spilling and another, Uvas, near Gilroy, was 94 percent full. Lexington Reservoir near Los Gatos rose 16 feet over the weekend but is just 40 percent full because officials of the Santa Clara Valley Water District have been drawing down its levels to recharge critical groundwater basins. The district will decide by June whether to keep in place its 30 percent conservation targets. "We were concerned in February because it was so dry," said John Pfister, an associate engineer in the district's water supply division. "We're hoping this turns out to be a Miracle March."

Rains sent the largest reservoir in Santa Cruz County, Loch Lomond, up 5.5 feet this weekend. The reservoir near Ben Lomond, which received 8 inches of rain this weekend, is now 91 percent full and could fill to the top as soon as this weekend. "It's probably fair to say that if the reservoir is spilling, the likelihood of having strict rationing next summer is low," said Toby Goddard, administrative services manager for the Santa Cruz City Water Department.

The largest reservoir owned by East Bay MUD, Pardee, on the Mokelumne River watershed in the Sierra Nevada, reached 90 percent full Monday, and precipitation in the watershed is 106 percent of normal. All seven of the district's reservoirs combined are still just 55 percent full, however. "Keep saving water," Pook said. "We still don't know what the rest of this winter, or next year, will bring."

All seven reservoirs that serve the 187,000 customers of the Marin Municipal Water District were 100 percent full by Monday, the first time since December 2014.

All the reservoirs that serve the 2.4 million Bay Area customers of the Hetch Hetchy system rose from 49 to 53 percent full this weekend. But the historic average this time of year is 78 percent.

Shasta Lake, the largest reservoir in California, and a vital resource to cities and farms, reached 65 percent full on Monday morning, up from 61 percent on Friday. The lake is now 87 percent of its historic average for this date. Similarly, Oroville, in Butte County, the keystone reservoir of the State Water Project, received more water on Sunday -- 104,706 acre feet -- than on any day since Feb. 17, 2004. It rose to 58 percent full, or 82 percent of normal for this date. "That's the kind of performance we need from Mother Nature to move us closer to the end of the drought," Carlson said. Could Shasta and Oroville fill if the rest of March and April receive steady El Niño storms? It's unlikely but not impossible. In 1993 and 2010, each received huge amounts of inflows and, if similar conditions occurred this year, they would be near the top by May.

Learn more at