El Niño is not going to end California’s Drought

Despite recent storms hitting Northern and Southern California, California’s water level is still only about average compared to normal conditions. Although some places in Northern California, like Eureka, have seen above average rainfall, there is still a very long way to go in order to counteract the four-year drought’s effect on the Golden State.

We are seeing progress, for instance, Lake Oroville has risen more than 27 feet, finally re-submerging islands that emerged during our driest days. However Lake Oroville, which happens to be one of the state’s major reservoirs, is still vastly below the historical water level- 20% lower in fact. Lake Shasta, another important state reservoir, is still at 40% below the average water as well.


In addition to our still lower than normal water reservoirs, California has already consumed two thirds of the stored drought backup water supply. This means that an average year of precipitation is not going to come close to mitigating water lost during the drought.

Even with El Niño heading our way and hopes of replenishing water, historical evidence of weather patterns shows that drought effects are amplified after El Niño weather patterns end.  The big El Niños of 1982-83 and 1997-98, which the current event has been compared to, were consistently followed by La Niña weather patterns. The effects from La Niñas, unlike El Niños, tend to amplify drying effects and reestablish drought like conditions.

Despite the unpredictability of the weather, one certainty remains clear: we still need to be mindful of our water usage, as California’s water shortage is something that may linger despite our short term rainy season.