Despite rains, water supply still depleted

January 22, 2010 7:06:44 PM PST
As we all know, we badly need the rain we've had this week, and we got a lot of it over the past few days. Every drop helps our critically low water supply. But we still have a long way to go.

The deluge across California is just what the state needed. Billions of gallons were added to reservoirs, but experts say it was hardly enough to declare the three-year drought over.

"This is a good start to trying to get past the drought, but we got a long way to go," Pete Lucero from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said.

Lake Shasta, for instance, the largest reservoir in California, rose by an impressive 15 feet in the last week -- enough drinking water for more than a million people for one year.

But it's only 49 percent of capacity. Other key reservoirs across the state are still half empty.

One of the worst off is the reservoir at Folsom Lake -- only 28 percent of capacity, nowhere near the dam's spillways, which stand empty.

The Sierra also got slammed during this series of storms, adding several feet of new snow. The state counts on it during the warmer months to supply drinking water as it melts.

The National Weather Service estimates it's 110 percent above average for this time of year, but it's no time to celebrate on that front either.

"I think if we would get two more such events, that we could reach just about a normal April 1 snowpack," State Chief Hydrologist Maurice Roos said.

Although El Niño conditions increase the possibility of more storms, in recent years, they tended to peter out in February or March.

"We need to sustain this type of precipitation in order to really help us throughout this year. We have to err on the side of conservation," Lucero said.

That's why no water agency is ready to lift its conservation efforts just yet.