Despite a significant rise in water levels throughout the state, California’s drought measures and water conservation mandates for its citizens will remain in place.
For the first time since the drought began, lake levels in both Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville, California’s two biggest reservoirs, were high enough to begin major water releases. This, according to water experts, is a sign drought conditions are beginning to subside. Water conservation measures, however, will not be lifted despite requests from municipalities that their water supplies are replenished.
“Our customers have done their part over the last couple of years,” said Ross Branch with the Placer County Water Authority.
Branch says about 63 percent of the 220,000 people they serve have seen the drought damage their own land.
“We did see some loss of landscape value and just general kind of quality of living,” said Branch.
After months of rain on and off, the Army Corps of Engineers began releasing water from the Oroville Dam Thursday morning, as it hit the threshold of 850 feet above sea level, at which point the lake becomes a flooding hazard.
Six-thousand-cubic-feet of water per second rushed from the Oroville reservoir Thursday throughout the day.
“This is fabulous to see the lake level this high, we haven’t seen it this high in a long time,” said Jana Frazier, Oroville Lake tour guide. Frazier says the levels are 200 feet higher than at this time last year.
Even with the increase, the state says it’s not enough yet to ease restrictions on the way people use water.
“As long as there’s a declared drought, we have the power to ask water districts to keep conserving water to work with our customers,” said George Kostyrko with the Water Resources Control Board.
The state wants to wait until the end of the water year, in April, to measure water levels. They’ll re-evaluate from there.
“Most of the rain will have come and gone. We’ll have a good idea of where we are in the snowpack. We’ll definitely have an idea where the reservoirs,” said Kostyrko.
“Is it going to make up for all the water was used in the four prior years? That’s still an unknown question.”
But Branch says some counties like Placer have enough water reserves now to allow residents some leeway.
“Right now the amount of inflow that we have is two times the amount of storage that we have,” said Branch.