BASS Times: California reservoirs continue to drop

About the author

Dan O'Sullivan

Dan O'Sullivan

Dan O’Sullivan is an outdoor journalist from Loomis, Calif., and a member of the California Federation Nation board of directors. He and his wife have three daughters. He's the managing editor of

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In a state where recreational fishing is connected to winter snowpack, California anglers remain concerned yet hopeful.

 Last summer, the water levels in three of northern California's largest reservoirs — Folsom, Oroville and Shasta — had dropped to an average of 125 feet below normal pool. By November 2008, these same reservoirs had dropped to an average of 160 feet below normal pool and still falling.

 According to the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), the state's entire water storage system is now approaching 60 percent below normal capacity. Following several big storms in late October, which brought as much as 5 inches of precipitation to some portions of northern California, many California anglers continued to watch their outdoor recreational opportunities evaporate. And some began asking tough questions of the state's water resource managers.

 The reason reservoir levels continue to drop, according to DWR Chief Information Officer Ted Thomas, is that the state has had two consecutive drought seasons.

 "With two back-to-back dry years, our soil soaks the water up like a sponge anytime [rain] falls. That makes it tough for us to capture the water behind our dams because there's little runoff into the rivers and lakes," Thomas said.

 What the state desperately needs, he added, is a harsh winter that leaves behind a sizable winter snowpack.

 "Rain is good, but it doesn't take care of the whole problem," Thomas continued. "California's largest reservoir is our Sierra snowpack; it contains 15 million acre-feet of water within it. If we get a warm winter storm season without low-level snowfall, it does little to help for the year's totals."

 With that said, Thomas believes that the long-range outlook is promising. Forecasters are calling for a wet winter, but even that is greeted with some skepticism.

 "The forecasts provide us hope," said Thomas. "However, they are not always accurate. So we can only wait and see. Our rainfall year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, and thus far, it has been wet.

 "We're hopeful the precipitation predictions are accurate," he concluded. "The whole state relies on our water supply. Our reservoirs are critically low, and we need them to rise again."

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