The parade of storms that has drenched California over the past several weeks has gone a long way toward replenishing the reservoirs that provide Berkeley and Oakland with drinking water.
East Bay Municipal Utility District reservoirs, which serve 1.4 million customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, were filled to 84% of their capacity as of Tuesday, up from 68% in September, before the rainy season began.
The region’s biggest source of drinking water, the Pardee Reservoir east of Lodi, is 96% full, with more rain in the forecast over the next several days. And the Mokelumne River watershed that EBMUD draws from also has more water banked up in the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which state and utility data show is currently more than double its historical average.
“We’re in a much, much better position right now,” district spokesperson Nelsy Rodriguez said in an interview. “We have been waiting for a wet season like this for years.”
While the storms have toppled trees and flooded intersections locally and have proven deadly and more destructive in other parts of California, the rain is also raising hopes of relief from the years-long drought. But with many major reservoirs across the state still well below historical averages, officials say it’s far too soon to declare even local water shortages over — or lift requirements for residents to conserve.
Rodriguez said EBMUD won’t consider changing conservation requirements until at least the spring, once it knows how much rain and snow fell during the wettest months of the year. If the rain stopped now — in a repeat of the mid-winter dry spell that struck around this time last year — Rodriguez said the district would face a water shortage.
“It is tempting to say that we are not going to be in drought, but there are still several months for conditions to change,” she said.
As the Pardee Reservoir fills, EBMUD is directing water to several reservoirs within the Bay Area, such as Lake Chabot and the San Pablo Reservoir, which as a whole are 97% full as of this week. The district is also sending water to the larger Camanche Reservoir, which is at 73% of capacity, and down the Mokelumne River to the Pacific Ocean.
“We’re still moving the water to refill things,” Rodriguez said.
With its reservoir network and water rights, the East Bay has fared better in recent years than other parts of California that are more sensitive to drought, such as Marin County and certain communities in the Central Valley.
The Camanche Reservoir, which is currently storing just over 300,000 acre-feet of water, is one of the only major California reservoirs that is above its historical average as water supplies recover from three disappointing rainy seasons. The state’s two largest reservoirs — the 4.5 million acre-foot Shasta Lake and the 3.5 million acre-foot Lake Oroville — are both less than half full and below their historical averages.
Monitoring maps show nearly all of California remains in a drought. And as the climate changes, occasional big rain years are expected to continue even as California’s winters overall trend drier and fuel chronic water shortages.