AS WA­TERS RISE, DROUGHT RE­CEDES

Too much: Reser­voirs spill over, rais­ing flood wor­ries in the South Bay Snow packed: Re­sorts, wa­ter of­fi­cials cheer even as I-80 closes in the Sierra

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By Aaron Kin­ney akin­ney@ba­yare­anews­group.com

North­ern Cal­i­for­nia con­tin­ued to roar out of its pro­longed drought Tues­day as yet an­other pow­er­ful storm blew in from the Pa­cific Ocean, drench­ing an al­ready sat­u­rated Bay Area, fill­ing some lo­cal reser­voirs be­yond ca­pac­ity and cre­at­ing dan­ger­ous white-out con­di­tions in the north­west­ern Sierra Ne­vada.

Shortly af­ter noon, wa­ter be­gan cours­ing down the Lex­ing­ton Reser­voir spill­way for the first time since March 2011. As the wa­ter surged into Los Gatos Creek, the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice is­sued a flash-flood warn­ing for ar­eas ad­ja­cent to the stream in Los Gatos and Campbell. Flood warn­ings also were is­sued for south­ern Santa Clara County amid re­ports of sev­eral feet

of stand­ing wa­ter in Gil­roy, San Martin and Mor­gan Hill.

The lat­est storm also brought the threat of more mud­slides just days af­ter High­way 17 was closed. It briefly shut In­ter­state 880 in the East Bay on Tues­day and top­pled trees and power lines.

At higher el­e­va­tions, the storm turned into a treach­er­ous bliz­zard. Cal­trans shut down nearly 90 miles of In­ter­state 80 be­tween Col­fax and the Ne­vada state line Mon­day night. It was not ex­pected to re­open un­til Tues­day night.

The storm was ex­pected to ease up late Tues­day be­fore giv­ing way to a weaker sys­tem that may linger into Thurs­day. Af­ter that, fore­cast­ers pre­dicted sev­eral days of sunny weather, in­clud­ing a rain-free week­end.

Com­bined with last week­end’s more pow­er­ful sys­tem and some heavy rain­fall in De­cem­ber, the lat­est storm put sev­eral years of pun­ish­ing drought far­ther in the rearview win­dow, though state of­fi­cials plan to wait un­til the end of the sea­son be­fore de­cid­ing whether to end Cal­i­for­nia’s emer­gency drought dec­la­ra­tion.

Record to­tals

In the north­ern Sierra Ne­vada re­gion, the av­er­age pre­cip­i­ta­tion at eight weather sta­tions mon­i­tored by the state Depart­ment of Wa­ter Re­sources reached 203 per­cent of nor­mal for the cur­rent wa­ter year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. That’s the high­est to­tal on record for those sta­tions for this time of the sea­son, putting the re­gion on pace to ex­ceed the wettest recorded wa­ter year of 1982-83.

“No doubt about it, that’s an en­cour­ag­ing sign for peo­ple con­cerned about the drought, which is ev­ery­body,” said Doug Carl­son, spokesman for the Wa­ter Re­sources Depart­ment. “To be 203 per­cent of av­er­age as of Jan. 10 is quite en­cour­ag­ing. The north is where we have our ma­jor reser­voirs.”

So much wa­ter is flow­ing up north that the U.S. Bureau of Recla­ma­tion an­nounced Tues­day it will in­crease re­leases from Shasta Lake, the state’s largest reser­voir, from 14,000 cu­bic feet per sec­ond to 36,000 cu­bic feet per sec­ond by Thurs­day. The goal is to free up space in the swelling reser­voir to cap­ture more wa­ter as fu­ture storms come.

The cu­mu­la­tive rain­fall hasn’t been quite as eye­pop­ping in many parts of the Bay Area, but still above av­er­age. San Jose has re­ceived about 6.5 inches of rain since Oct. 1, which is 109 per­cent of nor­mal, while Oak­land has got­ten about 11.6 inches, good for 127 per­cent of nor­mal, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice.

On Tues­day, Mineta San Jose In­ter­na­tional Air­port got 0.31 inches of rain in the 24-hour pe­riod end­ing at 4 p.m. Con­cord soaked up 1.45 inches, Oak­land In­ter­na­tional Air­port re­ceived 1.15 inches, and Red­wood City got 1.37 inches.

In the North Bay, San Rafael got 2.56 inches as the Rus­sian River con­tin­ued to rise and flood­ing wors­ened in the area of Guerneville. The level of the river was ex­pected to ex­ceed 38 feet on Wed­nes­day, more than 6 feet above the flood stage.

The re­cent storms have loaded up many of the re­gion’s reser­voirs. Four of the reser­voirs within the Santa Clara Val­ley Wa­ter Dis­trict, in­clud­ing Lex­ing­ton, were above ca­pac­ity Tues­day. The reser­voirs man­aged by the East Bay Mu­nic­i­pal Util­ity Dis­trict reached 82 per­cent of ca­pac­ity on av­er­age, with Bri­ones Reser­voir in western Con­tra Costa County at 99 per­cent.

Drought lin­ger­ing?

One of the state’s top en­vi­ron­men­tal of­fi­cials, Nat­u­ral Re­sources Sec­re­tary John Laird, said Tues­day that, de­spite the wel­come rain, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is likely to wait un­til March or April to de­cide whether to lift the emer­gency drought dec­la­ra­tion that Gov. Jerry Brown signed three years ago.

Although there is flood­ing in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, he said, some parts of the state, par­tic­u­larly in the San Joaquin Val­ley, have badly over­drawn ground­wa­ter basins be­cause of heavy pump­ing dur­ing re­cent dry years.

“That is nowhere near re­cov­er­ing, even with the rains,” he said.

The re­sources sec­re­tary did not spec­ify what sort of re­cov­ery the Brown ad­min­is­tra­tion would like to see in those basins be­fore it con­sid­ers the cur­rent drought to be over.

In Los Gatos, David Que­vado was happy to see Lex­ing­ton Reser­voir full, but the gen­eral man­ager of The Cats, a pop­u­lar restau­rant off High­way 17, wasn’t both­ered by the weather con­di­tions that have caused ma­jor headaches over the past sev­eral days in the Santa Cruz Moun­tains.

“It’s heavy rain,” he said, peer­ing out of his of­fice win­dow, “but noth­ing out of the nor­mal.”

Up in the state cap­i­tal, some­thing more un­usual was afoot. For the first time in 11 years, the state Depart­ment of Wa­ter Re­sources opened a set of flood-con­trol gates on the Sacra­mento River. Let­ting wa­ter course through the gates, known as the Sacra­mento Weir, is de­signed to calm the rag­ing wa­ters at the con­flu­ence of the Sacra­mento and Amer­i­can rivers.

All the wa­ter in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s rivers and streams is a wel­come sign for Chi­nook sal­mon and the fish­er­men who catch them. Baby sal­mon will sur­vive at much higher rates as they head out to the ocean over the next sev­eral months, likely de­liv­er­ing a bounty to coastal trawlers when the fish re­turn to spawn in a few years.

And the snow in the Sierra Ne­vada will en­sure a long and en­joy­able ski sea­son, said Sam Kieck­he­fer, spokesman for Squaw Val­ley and Alpine Mead­ows near Lake Ta­hoe.

The re­sort got 27 inches of snow in a 24-hour pe­riod end­ing Tues­day morn­ing, and an­other 10 inches or so came down by the af­ter­noon, bring­ing the to­tal for Jan­uary to well above 10 feet, he said. The re­sort was closed Tues­day but hoped to open some chair lifts Wed­nes­day, depend­ing on weather con­di­tions.

“It is dump­ing like I haven’t ever re­ally seen, to be hon­est,” said Kieck­he­fer.

“We have our hands full, that’s for sure,” said Cal­trans spokesman Bob Haus. “All our main­te­nance folks are work­ing 12-hour days.”

KRISTO­PHER SKIN­NER/STAFF

Wal­nut Creek: Crews work to re­move large trees that fell across Tice Val­ley Boule­vard in Wal­nut Creek on Tues­day.

DAN HONDA/STAFF

Lex­ing­ton Reser­voir: The Santa Clara County reser­voir hit ca­pac­ity, send­ing wa­ter over the spill­way Tues­day for the first time since March 2011.

NHAT V. MEYER/STAFF

Los Gatos Creek: Storm runoff flooded parts of the creek trail.

NHAT V. MEYER/STAFF

A woman looks at a flooded sec­tion of the pop­u­lar Los Gatos Creek Trail on a rainy and windy day in Los Gatos on Tues­day.

KARL MONDON/STAFF

Chas Leach clears a storm drain in Guerneville on Mon­day as the Rus­sian River crests above flood stage.

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