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State reservoirs running out of space after January storms

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California has given out rights to more than five times as much water as the state has in a given year, including water from the Colorado River.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
California has given out rights to more than five times as much water as the state has in a given year, including water from the Colorado River.

California's recent downpour brought an ton of water, but now the challenge is how to store it. John Leahigh from the State Water Project explains.

Winter storms brought much needed rain to California in recent weeks.   So much so that according to data by the U.S. Drought Monitor, nearly half of the state is out of the drought.

But: there's a problem. It seems the abundance of water from the sky is too much for California's reservoirs.

For more, Take Two's A Martinez spoke with John Leahigh. He oversees water management for the State Water Project.

Interview Highlights

What's going on with our reservoirs here in California? How's this increase being handled?

"This year we've seen just a complete turnaround from where we've been in terms of the prolonged drought that we've faced. Because of the drought, surface water supplies and ground water supplies have been heavily depleted over the last few years and what we're seeing now this year is our ability to go ahead and fill a lot of that depleted surface storage back up."

Is there room to handle all this extra water?

"We've reached the limits in terms of our flood control restrictions for many of the reservoirs especially in Northern California. So practically all of the reservoirs are in flood control operations, so we've filled to the point where we have to allow any additional inflow into the reservoirs to release those downstream just in order to maintain the vacated space for very big events that protect downstream levy systems."

This water, it's not a missed opportunity, right? We'll still be able to do something with it?

"...our pumping plants are at full physical capacity right now. This is actually at unprecedented levels of pumping that we're doing currently from the delta and that water is flowing down the California aqueduct.  We're pumping it into off-stream storage so we have a major reservoir, San Luis reservoir which is essentially halfway down the state, we're pretty close to filling that reservoir. We're also filling a lot of the empty space that's been created down in some of the Southern California reservoirs so for example, Castaic Lake has been extremely low during the drought, at less than a third of its capacity and looks like we're likely to fill that reservoir back up to the brim."

To hear the full segment, click the blue play button above.

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