After weeks of rain, California’s reservoirs still aren’t full

By Jamie Joseph / The Epoch Times / January 24, 2023, updated January 25

Most of California’s major reservoirs failed to reach full capacity after more than two weeks of storms, according to the latest data from the state water department.

As of January 23, among the 17 major reservoirs, only the smallest, the Cachuma Reservoir northwest of Santa Barbara, was near full, about 1.5 times its historical average level, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

The rest were partially full, varying between 30 and 80 percent.

Seven of those were still below their historical average, including the 4.5 million acre-foot Shasta Reservoir, the largest in the state, more than 23 times Cachuma’s capacity, at 55 percent.

(California Department of Water Resources/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

Recent storms brought California an average of 11.19 inches of precipitation, or 97.6 million acre-feet of water, according to a statement from the state department of water resources to The Epoch Times.

Colin McCarthy, a weather news contributor and an atmospheric sciences student at the University of California-Davis, estimated that about 32.6 trillion gallons, or more than 100 million acre-feet, of stormwater swept across the state on Dec. 18. January since the storms began. in late December, using the Old Farmer’s Almanac, a guide to weather forecasting, and planting charts.

“Great relief from the drought,” he wrote on Twitter.

Water storage facilities across the state can hold 43 million acre-feet, according to the 2018 report from the Public Policy Institute of California (pdf). The state has not built new reservoirs since 1978.

Aging infrastructure and pumping restrictions

Kristi Diener, founder of the California Grassroots Water for Food and People Movement, an advocacy group calling for water protection, told The Epoch Times that if reservoirs are full, they can provide enough to survive five dry years without additional rain. .

“We only need them to be filled out once, and they couldn’t even do that,” he said.

In the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta through which most of the state’s water flows, nearly 95 percent of incoming stormwater has run into the Pacific Ocean, according to the US Office of Reclamation.

A house is seen on farmland amid flooding from the Salinas River in Salinas, Calif., on Jan. 13, 2023. (David Swanson/Reuters)
Two-thirds of California’s water originates in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and flows through the Delta, a large inland river delta and estuary in northern California.

A 444-mile aqueduct carries water to the San Joaquin Valley and southern California. The water is stored in reservoirs before being distributed to local communities.

However, aging facilities make transporting and storing water inefficient, according to the state water department.

“Current infrastructure for moving water through the Delta is outdated, vulnerable to earthquakes, and limits the export of water during these prolonged and sustained winter storms,” department officials said on Twitter on January 16.

Additionally, Governor Gavin Newsom’s Emergency Drought Order established last April for the third year in a row restricts the amount of water farmers can use in the Central Valley. Other factors include the preservation of delta cast fish under the Endangered Species Act, which limits pumping of agricultural water.

In this file photo, a Delta smelt is shown at the University of California Davis Fish Culture and Conservation Laboratory in Byron, Calif., on July 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Farmers have to “watch their farmland die” if they cannot operate without violating the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, passed in 2014 to preserve groundwater for the long term, Diener said.

“It’s a year’s supply of water for everyone in the state in two weeks, because they reduce pumping,” he said.

As a result of the water loss, “families will be subject to water restrictions as they have been,” he added.

About a dozen lawmakers sent letters last week asking state and federal officials to relax pumping restrictions. They said stormwater should have been pumped into reservoirs and aqueducts instead of being allowed to run into the ocean.