Why weeks of rain in California will not end drought

STORY: [Why does California still have a drought problem?]

Why does California still have a drought problem?

After weeks of rain...including a series of so-called atmospheric rivers...causing scenes like this....

the drought that has gripped the western United States remains far from over.

Let's take a closer look at what's behind California's water issues:

[Jeanine Jones, California Department of Water Resources, Interstate Resources Manager]

“Well, as the real estate agents say, it's all about location, location, location..."

[Colorado River under stress]

Virtually none of the storms have reached the Colorado River basin,

which means a river that provides drinking water to 40 million people in seven states will continue to be endangered.

And despite a deluge that by one estimate has been expected to dump more than 80 trillion liters of water,

the state's major reservoirs remain well below their historic average.

Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville are still at 42% and 47% of capacity, according to state data.

"Statewide reservoir storage has been coming up nicely and we're above 80% of average now, which is great. That's a substantial improvement since Christmas. But some of the largest reservoirs that are really important for water supply, like Lake Oroville and Lake Shasta, still have lots of space in them because they weren't under the path of the wettest storms.”

[Infrastructure deficit]

California has an infrastructure problem.

Its large network of cement canals lack the capacity to capture excess stormwater.

On top of this, snowpack in the mountains is melting more rapidly each spring with temperatures rising,

and the state lacks enough storage capacity to conserve the runoff.

California Governor Gavin Newsom plans to ramp up infrastructure spending,

but until that money is converted to projects, excess stormwater will continue to drain into the Pacific Ocean.

[Gavin Newsom, California Governor]

"We have to adapt to that new reality. And we have to change our approach, so we can capture more of that stormwater.."

[Weather whiplash]

Climate change means more weather extremes.

As California experiences more severe droughts and heat waves,

its occasional wet years are expected to be excessively rainy.

A report published in the journal Nature last year found 2000 to 2021 to be the driest 22-year period for southwestern North America in at least 1,200 years.

[Laurel Larsen, Delta Lead Scientist & Associate Professor, University of California, Berkeley]

"You could think of the watershed in California a little bit like a sponge. The sponge that is our watershed was very, very dry leading up to this water year. And if you dump water on a sponge that's next to your sink, it's going to have to fill up that sponge before it begins to overflow and actually enter the sink. Same is true with California, and the sponge that we have is very big because we're talking about not just long-term depletion of soil moisture, but also long-term depletion of our groundwater reservoirs, of our aquifers."