Many of California's larger reservoirs still starved for rain

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With several Bay Area reservoirs nearly full, at capacity or overflowing, you might think we're in good water shape.  But, when it comes to the state's really big reservoirs, which we depend on most— think again.

Majestic Mount Shasta's huge crown of snow gleams in the sun. Fifty miles south, Lake Shasta, California's largest reservoir by far, is only just over half full; but better than it was in the fall.

"It's up quite a bit from last year. There's a makeshift, underwater there's a makeshift launch ramp out there about a couple hundred yards,” says Shasta resident Eben Daniels who confirmed he was out there last fall.
But, this biggest of all California reservoirs, still 85 feet below the fill line, needs a lot more rain to keep filling. Sheri Harral has worked at Shasta Dam for a quarter century.

"It's gonna take us a few years to climb out of this. So we need almost another 200 million acre feet of water," says Harral. That's equivalent to a column of water covering San Francisco's entire 49 square mile area of 6,400 feet high; and that's just Shasta. "We really depend on our average rainfall, which is about 62 inches of rain a year which we haven't seen in about four or five years," says Harral.

In a word, Lake Shasta is enormous and it's well below its seasonal average for this time of year. If you think that Lake Folsom is big, this lake is nearly five times larger. In fact, Folsom Reservoir is just above average today, but it is clearly the only exception and it's a relatively small reservoir.

Don't let all that snow pack on Mount Shasta fool you.

"The majority of it goes into the Klamath Basin as opposed to us. 90 percent of what fills Shasta Lake is rain, as opposed to all of our other dams, mainly depend on snowfall," says Harral.

The state's second biggest reservoir, snow pack dependent Lake Oroville is well below its historical average today. The other big reservoirs, Trinity Lake, Don Pedro, San Luis and New Melones are also all well below where they should be.

"We would definitely need some humongous storms and probably at least another year to recoup. This year, because we are so low, we're gonna keep every drop that we can possibly," says Harral.

Nonetheless, come spring, summer and fall, water from all these reservoirs is needed to serve people, farms, fish, recreation and the environment; all of which will drain them greatly.