Environment & Science

NorCal reservoirs fill up while SoCal's lag behind

Castaic Lake on July 21, 2014. Swimming at Castaic Lake has been prohibited because of low water levels.
Castaic Lake on July 21, 2014. Swimming at Castaic Lake has been prohibited because of low water levels.
Chris Austin/Flickr

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Storms over the weekend pushed an important water supply reservoir in Northern California to above average capacity for the first time in years.

Water levels at Lake Shasta are now 103 percent of their historic capacity. Despite a storm here Friday, Southern California hasn't seen anywhere near the same kind of rain this winter, and local reservoirs remain low.

Reservoirs like Castaic Lake and Lake Perris are only about 40 percent of their historical average, according to the state Department of Water Resources.

Reservoir levels at major water storage spaces throughout California, as of Sunday March 13th.
Reservoir levels at major water storage spaces throughout California, as of Sunday March 13th.
California Department of Water Resources

"The good news, if there is good news after all this drought, is that we are receiving more rainfall this year than we have in the past," said DWR spokesman Doug Carlson.

Places like San Francisco and Sacramento have seen more than 13 inches of rain since December. Meanwhile, Los Angeles has gotten less than 5.6 inches.

Still, Carlson says Southern California reservoirs don’t depend as much on precipitation as ones up north. Instead they get most of their water imported from elsewhere.

"Eventually the south presumably will have all the water it needs thanks to the transmission lines and aqueducts that serve the entire state," Carlson said.

It could still be a while though, before there is enough extra water to fill the reservoirs down south. Carlson said even though some northern reservoirs are looking good, they’re not all full, and we are still in a drought.

That's why DWR is only planning to allocate about 30 percent of the water requested by cities and farms. Many districts will likely keep pumping ground water to get by, even though scientists say that can cause areas to sink by inches and leaves the state more vulnerable to long term drought.

Carlson says the recent rains are a good sign, but we likely won't know if seriously dry conditions are over until April or May.

"It's still a waiting game to determine if we are really going to be getting out of the drought this wet season," he said.