Plenty of rainfall through the end of last year and during January has boosted California’s water supplies to 105 percent of normal, painting a completely different picture from a year ago.
January’s deluge helped push the statewide water supply up from 68 percent just a few weeks ago. Nearly all major reservoirs are at or above normal levels for this time of year.
“If you look at the numbers this year, they’re not bad in terms of precipitation and snow pack,” said Doug Parker, director of the California Institute for Water Resources. “We are at average or near average, and even above in a few places in the state."
He added that it is still early in the water year, which began in October.
Parker said more storms are predicted in the coming weeks, putting California in a good place. But he worried the storms could potentially track north of the state.
Typically, the state gets half its precipitation from December through February. Southern California, which normally lags behind the northern half of the state, has had more than its share of storms recently.
Reservoir levels are higher in the Southern and Central Sierras than in the Northern Sierras.
Shasta Lake is the state’s largest reservoir in the northern part of the state, at 35 miles long. The water level has risen 25 feet since the start of the year, making it 61 percent full.
South of the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Luis Reservoir is 82 percent full.
“Even if rains slow down, we won’t go into drought mode,” Parker said.
In 2017, California emerged from an epic drought that lasted nearly six years.
“It’s a joke in the water world that there is no average water year in California since it varies so much, but this year might be an average water year,” he said.
Growers who begin planting in March will be in good shape if the rain keeps up.
However, there are questions about the impact of climate change on the state's weather.
Higher temperatures will cause snow packs to melt sooner, which will reduce the state's ability to capture runoff for use later in the year.
“Then the question is, Do we redesign our water management systems to adapt to climate change?” Parker said.