One year after California’s worst snowpack ever, levels are back to 87% of normal

California's snowpack typically peaks around April 1. Last year, the amount of water contained in the snowpack on that date was the lowest ever recorded. In response, Gov. Jerry Brown imposed the first mandatory drought restrictions on urban water use in California's history. After a year of conservation and a much-anticipated El Niño, how are we doing?

Drought Relief

After heavy March rains, certain areas of the Sierra Nevada have gotten some drought relief, but 55% of California remains in extreme or exceptional drought.

Abnormally dry
Moderate drought
Severe drought
Extreme drought
Exceptional drought

April 2015









Jan. 2016



Snowpack Growth

California’s reservoirs are filled by precipitation and the slow melting of the state’s snowpack. On April 1, 2015, the snowpack was at just 5% of average for the day. This year, ​satellite images show that the Sierra Nevada snowpack is visibly improved. After a stormy March, the water contained in the statewide snowpack is 87% of normal for March 30 – much better than a year ago, but still slightly below average.

March 29, 2015

March 17, 2016

Statewide snow levels (Nov. 30 - April 1)

2015-16 Snow water content (% of normal)   2014-15 Snow water content (% of normal)  


California stores waters in its reservoirs until it is needed. Getting a healthy dose of winter weather is important, partially because ran and runoff from the snowpack feed the reservoirs. Some reservoirs in Northern California have benefited from recent storms; in some cases officials have even had to release water to avoid potential flooding. But many reservoirs in Southern California remain at below-average levels.

Lake Shasta

California’s largest reservoir is a key water source for the federal Central Valley Project, which serves California growers.

Reservoir storage, March 2015 - March 2016

Lake Oroville

Oroville is among the state’s largest reservoirs and the centerpiece of the State Water Project, which sends water to millions of people in towns and cities in Southern California, including Los Angeles.

Reservoir storage, March 2015 - March 2016

Folsom Lake

Folsom is the reservoir closest to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the keystone to California's complex water network. It provides officials with some flexibility when they need to get water into the delta quickly.

Reservoir storage, March 2015 - March 2016

Sources: USGS EarthExplorer, NASA Worldview, California Data Exchange Center, U.S. Drought Monitor.

Additional reporting by Kyle Kim and Thomas Suh Lauder.