Water & Drought

How full are SLO County’s lakes and reservoirs after the winter rains?

Santa Margarita Lake spills over

For the first time in nearly six years, Santa Margarita Lake is full and spilling over into the Salinas River. Mark Hutchinson, deputy director of SLO County Public Works, talks on Feb. 8, 2017, about the role of the lake, also known as the Salina
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For the first time in nearly six years, Santa Margarita Lake is full and spilling over into the Salinas River. Mark Hutchinson, deputy director of SLO County Public Works, talks on Feb. 8, 2017, about the role of the lake, also known as the Salina

San Luis Obispo County received a thorough drenching this winter — and the above-average rainfall led to huge gains for the area’s lakes and reservoirs.

Although the rainfall season isn’t officially over until July, the Central Coast’s rainiest time of year came to an end in April, according to PG&E meteorologist John Lindsey.

“Sadly, it’s looking likely that this year’s rain season is coming to an end,” Lindsey wrote in an April 18 tweet. “Except for areas of drizzle along the coastline, it’s looking dry through the end of April.”

Reservoirs that filled and spilled during the county’s heaviest storms have leveled off, some at capacity or close to full.

Lake Nacimiento in the northwestern corner of the county has gained the most water since the beginning of the year. The reservoir started January at 11% of capacity and is now 84% full, according to the Monterey County Water Resources Agency.

Monterey County manages Lake Nacimiento and releases water in the spring and summer, which is sent to the Salinas Valley for agricultural use. Water officials have already started these releases, which will peak in the summer and trail off later in the fall.

Santa Margarita Lake in the North County reached 105% of capacity in February — a 20 percentage point gain since the beginning of January. Four months later, it remains 100% full, according to the San Luis Obispo County Public Works Department.

Lopez Lake in the South County also made substantial gains. The reservoir is now 59% full heading into the late spring and early summer months, up from 39% in January.

Whale Rock Reservoir near Cayucos is now at about 90% of capacity — up from 73% in early January, according to Noah Evans, water supply supervisor for San Luis Obispo.

Evans said full reservoirs will be helpful in future years, in case the county doesn’t get as much rain as it did this winter.

“We’re always happy to the reservoir levels increase,” he said.

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Lindsey Holden writes about housing and everything in between for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. She also covers communities in northern San Luis Obispo County. Lindsey became a staff writer in 2016 after working for the Rockford Register Star in Illinois. She’s a native Californian raised in the Midwest and is a proud graduate of two Chicago schools: DePaul University and Northwestern University.
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