With Late-Season Storm Approaching, Officials Look to Release More Water from NorCal Reservoirs

As Northern California welcomes a late-season winter storm this weekend, the Sierra Nevada mountains are set to receive up to 24 inches of snow, prompting state water officials to consider preemptive releases from the state’s reservoirs to prevent flooding.

Forecasters predict that higher elevations in the Sierra Nevada could see snow accumulations ranging from 18 to 24 inches, with widespread areas receiving over 12 inches. At lower elevations, the storm is expected to bring significant rain. This late surge in snowfall could increase the already high water levels in California’s reservoirs, which have recovered significantly from drought following an abnormally wet winter last year.

Given the current reservoir capacities—Lake Shasta at 96 percent and Lake Oroville at 98 percent—state water officials, including those from the Department of Water Resources (DWR), are closely monitoring the situation. The DWR has been managing water releases strategically to balance flood control and water storage needs. As of now, Lake Oroville is releasing water at a rate of 4,000 cubic feet per second, a figure that may increase depending on the weekend’s rainfall and snowfall.

“DWR continues to monitor lake and snowpack levels to optimize water storage and allow for carryover storage into next year,” said a spokesperson from the department. This careful management ensures that even as the dry season approaches, there is sufficient water reserve not only for immediate needs but also for future use.

In 2022, reservoirs across the state had dwindled to concerningly low levels due to prolonged drought conditions. This year’s series of atmospheric rivers have replenished the snowpack, which was above average by April when it began melting. California relies heavily on this snowpack, which provides 30 percent of the state’s fresh water supply, starting its melt in April.

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