California Storms Are Watery Hell, But Our Reservoirs Need Them Badly

The California deluge brings floods, damage and danger, but all that water is replenishing the parched Golden State’s very limited supply
174

Despite California’s recently onslaught of wet, heavy weather, it’s not all gloom and doom. All that rain is heaven-sent when you reflect that we’re in a record-breaking, three-year drought—the longest in California’s history. Thanks to the storms, state reservoirs are now experiencing a significant rise in water levels, Newsweek reports.

“Reservoirs, mainly dams at the mountain front, provide seasonal storage for water supply, in addition to storage to reduce downstream flooding,” UC Merced water and climate engineer Roger Bales said. “They store winter and spring rainfall and snowmelt [in the wet season], releasing that stored water during the summer growing season for irrigation and for municipal use [in the dry season].”

As recently as July, one-third of California was classified as being under “extreme” or “exceptional drought” by the U.S. Drought Monitor—in what some called a “megadrought.”

Some of these reservoirs were previously not reaching their water storage capacity, with many falling levels below. In some cases, the rain has aided their rise, with Lake Oroville making a quick jump from 673 feet above sea level on December 26 to 735 feet Tuesday. Shasta Lake—the state’s largest reservoir—rose 21 feet.

Despite the progress, Californians should put a hold on celebrating, as these numbers are still below historic averages, with two weeks of heavy rainfall insufficient to replenish a water shortage that has spanned a decade.

“We need to see sustained accumulation of precipitation throughout the season,” Jeanine Jones, drought manager for the CA Department of Water Resources, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s great that we’re having some storms and getting precip, but we need that to continue.”

As it stands, California has been contemplating a number of ways to combat the drought, with limited results. In July, Newsom unveiled a plan to build a 45-mile underground tunnel to lift the state out of the crisis. In September, scientists got together to propose the idea that beavers could save the state—and those massive rodents might still have a better solution than anything the humans have come up with yet.


Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.