A Series Of Big Storms Won’t Be Enough To Fix The California Drought

Reservoir california drought
The bottom of the Almaden Reservoir near San Jose, California, January 2014. Reuters/Robert Galbraith

Residents of California rejoiced last week when a series of winter storms ripped through the state.

Drought has racked California for three years, with 2014 being one of the driest years on record, so the deluge of rain and snow may look like long-awaited relief — but experts are warning that the show isn’t over yet.

It will take 11 trillion gallons of water to dig the state out of its drought, according to a recent analysis from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology. That’s more than 1.5 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.

It takes years to get into a drought of this severity, and it will likely take many more big storms, and years, to crawl out of it,” said Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at JPL, in a statement. Another recent study noted that this is the worst drought in California in 1,200 years — that’s not something that can be fixed with a few inches of rain. 

One of the biggest issues for California is the condition of its snowpack, the snow that accumulates in the mountains. In the spring and summer, this snow melts and trickles down the mountains, hydrating a large portion of the state.

Right now, snowpack in the Sierras is only at 47 per cent of its normal average for this time of year, according to data from the California Department of Water Resources — and that’s after all the precipitation California has gotten in the last few days. (Precipitation that comes down as rain in San Francisco will come down as snow and add to the pack in the Sierras.)

Sierra mountains
Sierra Mountains REUTERS/Larry Downing

The storm systems that have swept through California in the past week triggered flooding and mudslides in some areas, and more of the same is expected to come with a new round of storms this week.

So, while the US Drought Monitor reported some small improvements in certain California reservoirs, the rain just hasn’t been enough. The Drought Monitor is still reporting that nearly 80 per cent of California remains in an extreme drought.


In light of the disappointing news, California’s state government is already gearing up for another year of drought.

On Dec. 12, the state released a working draft of its 2015 drought strategy, which includes plans to control salt water intrusion in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, preserve cold water supplies in upstream reservoirs, and continue doing everything possible to ensure that the state maintains adequate water supplies for drinking water, sanitation, and fire control.

So while a new round of storms will hammer the state this week, bringing a deluge of welcome rain, it’s looking like another long, dry year ahead for California.