Oct 03, 2019

California’s Reservoirs Storing Surplus Water

Three years after its historic drought, California sees solid storage levels as the new water year begins. 

Lake Oroville in California

Statewide reservoir storage in California is now 128% of average due to increases in snowfall and precipitation

As the new water year kicks off, these numbers are a step up from last year. The increase was assisted by more than 30 atmospheric rivers, the majority of which made landfall in Northern California, according to the Los Angeles Times. A storm in a Sierra Nevada town in the spring was one in a series of several that kept temperatures low and maintained the snowpack, which is the state’s main water supply. Sierra Nevada is also where one-third of California’s water supply originates. These atmospheric river storms came not too long after California’s wet winter

“The significant rainfall and snowpack made for a great water year in 2019, so we start the new year in a good place,” said Department of Water Resources (DWR) Director Karla Nemeth in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “However, we all know too well that California’s weather and precipitation is highly variable. What we could have today could be gone tomorrow. Conserve. Recycle. Recharge. People and the environment depend on it.” 

This stance is consistent with the knowledge that in most years over the past decade, the snowpack levels had diminished or become nonexistent by June. The last time a snowpack measured as large as this year’s on June 3 was in 2011, when it was 336% of normal, according to the Los Angeles Times

Although California’s wildfires hurt residents and the environment substantially, these natural disasters left behind acres of scorched land that make snowpack formation easier and more water runoff downstream. The additional space and lack of vegetation makes it so that the snow reaches the soil and accumulates, according to research conducted by Fadji Maina, an expert in environmental and earth sciences. Nevertheless, the location of these wildfires ultimately impacts water availability. This information is especially useful for water resource managers as wildfires become more frequent. While this surplus of water is good news for California now, there is no telling if these storage levels will persist. 

Read more articles on California’s wildfires here: