California storms: Lake Shasta now three-quarters full as rains bring it closer to top
After a relatively dry February, the spigot has turned back on over the North State, thanks to a series of late-winter storms in March that have brought water levels up at Lake Shasta to almost 40 feet from its crest.
The lake — the state's largest reservoir — has risen 8 feet over the past week and more than 100 feet since Dec. 1, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation numbers show.
On Monday, Don Bader, area manager of the Bureau of Reclamation, said that despite the rain pushing the lake up, it still didn't appear there would be a need to release water over Shasta Dam’s spillway this spring, something that has happened only twice since 1998.
But on Tuesday, Bader said officials had adjusted the dam's flood operation plan, which now opens the potential for releasing water through the spillway later this spring.
Bottom line, the run of wet weather this month is a welcome change from a year ago.
On March 14, Shasta Dam received 5.9 inches of rain.
“That was more rain than we got the entire months of January, February and March of last year,” Bader said Monday morning. “So that kind of puts in perspective how inconsistent it can be. … We’re seeing a big turnaround, huge storms."
Bader added, “If you recall last year, it was sunny day after sunny day all winter long. That killed us with (water) storage (at Lake Shasta).”
More:Bureau: 'March will tell the story' of whether California's drought is over
As of Monday morning, Lake Shasta was 42 feet from the top, or 75% full, and 98% of historical average, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
That compares to 38% full and 49% of average for the same day a year ago.
The sun was out Monday after a rainy weekend, but more wet weather is forecast starting Tuesday through much of the week.
“By the end of this week we should be down 30 to 32 feet (from the top),” Bader said. “We are in good shape. A month from now, mid-April, I expect the lake will reach its peak level (for the season).”
While the lake continues to rise closer to its fill line, Bader said there is still plenty of room for more water.
“We are still way, way below the need to use the spillway. We still have over a million-acre feet of space. That last 42 feet, that’s a lot of storage,” Bader said.
But officials should get more clarity on whether they will need to release water through the dam's spillway next week, Bader said.
Since Jan. 1, a tad over 37 inches of rain has fallen at Shasta Dam, with approximately 90%, or 33.97 inches, coming in January and the first three weeks in March, the National Weather Service said. Normal for that period is 27.36 inches of rainfall.
Redding has received 22.57 inches of rain since Jan. 1, about 8 inches more than the historical norm, the National Weather Service says.
Meanwhile, Bader expects the Bureau of Reclamation will start increasing flows from Shasta Dam the latter part of April.
“Our demand starts with the ag farmers growing rice and their fields are so wet (we) can delay diverting water" to them from the dam, Bader said.
The Bureau of Reclamation operates Lake Shasta and Trinity Lake. The two reservoirs hold water that is used to supply numerous local water agencies, including the cities of Redding and Shasta Lake, the Bella Vista Water District and other smaller water districts in the Redding area.
Trinity Lake was 36% full on Monday and 50% of historical average.
But unlike Lake Shasta, Trinity Lake relies more heavily on snowmelt. So, its level will start rising as more snow melts through the spring.
The National Weather Service shows a chance of showers Tuesday afternoon in Redding with a high temperature of 60 degrees, the National Weather Service said.
Showers will be possible through Friday before mostly sunny skies are expected Saturday.
David Benda covers business, development and anything else that comes up for the USA TODAY Network in Redding. He also writes the weekly "Buzz on the Street" column. He’s part of a team of dedicated reporters that investigate wrongdoing, cover breaking news and tell other stories about your community. Reach him on Twitter @DavidBenda_RS or by phone at 1-530-338-8323. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today.
This article originally appeared on Redding Record Searchlight: California storms: Lake Shasta rises to three-quarters full