Drought? What drought?

A series of powerful winter storms has restored California’s once-withering snowpack to levels well above average, with most of the state’s reservoirs now filled at or near capacity.

The suddenly swollen state of California’s reservoirs made big news in mid-February when nearly 200,000 people living near Lake Oroville in Butte County were evacuated after the reservoir reached capacity and the dam’s spillway failed.

The recent inundation of wet weather makes it’s easy to forget that California was very recently mired in a historic five-year drought. And even while epic levels of rain and snow continue to pummel much of the state, the California Water Resources Control Board voted unanimously on Feb. 8 to extend current water conservation rules through September, a nod to the fickle weather patterns of recent years and the still diminished groundwater levels in areas of the agricultural-heavy Central Valley.

The map below shows fluctuations since 2010 in California’s 30-largest reservoirs, using CA Department of Water Resources data. Below that is a cool visualization produced by Stanford University’s EcoWest project showing current and historical rain and snowpack levels.

In the reservoir map, grey borders mark the maximum capacity of each reservoir, while the blue circles show fluctuating storage levels over time. All reservoirs are scaled relative to maximum storage capacity (with the largest — Shasta Lake — at 30 pixels). Click on each reservoir to see the change in capacity since 2010, and view changing percentages over time by mousing over the reservoir pop-out to the left of the chart.

Source: California Department of Water Resources

Major Bay Area water sources


More on California’s water sources

MAP: What California’s Reservoir and Snowpack Levels Look Like Now 28 February,2017Matthew Green

  • Kent H

    Please, please update the graphic with latest available data!

  • cowboybob

    this is great. Lake Shasta is near capacity of 4.5mil, Lake Oroville is near 3.4mil, the small reservoirs are not near capacity, but that is ok because they are small, can’t compete with the monsters. Remember city folks, conserve 25%, which saves 4% of state water so we farmers can grow more alfalfa for export and makes us money to give to Gov Brown as legal campaign contributions. Gov Brown is the greatest. .

  • -Jacob

    I hope this can be updated!

  • Hillary Clintub

    “It never rains in California, but, man it pours. Man, it pours.” ~ The Mamas & The Papas.

  • Krehg Blaha

    There’s a problem with the reservoir graphic. E.g. Lake Isabella: the starting point for 2017 needs equal to the level at end 2016, not the level from beginning 2011. Looks like at least one error in the spreadsheet. Better re-check the data.

    • Hi Krehg – you make a good point. However the data is correct, it’s the graph design that’s a bit confusing: There is unfortunately no line connecting December to January. So, the last point for any year is the value at the END of December, and the first point is the value for the END of January. It’s confusing, I realize.

  • ChrisLongski

    San Fran – sucking water from upstream environments it ruined, especially Hetch Hetchy. Is there any water nearby ? Like, in that Pacific Ocean ?



Matthew Green

Matthew Green produces and edits The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog, an online resource for educators and the general public. He previously taught journalism at Fremont High School in East Oakland, and has written for numerous local publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. Email: mgreen@kqed.org; Twitter: @KQEDlowdown

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