Stunning before-and-after images: California reservoir goes from almost empty to 100% full

Two kayakers paddle, caring a dog, on a blue body of water filing the frame.
Kayakers enjoy time on the San Luis Reservoir in 2016. California’s fifth-largest reservoir is among several that have been replenished following a wet winter.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

California’s reservoirs have been in the spotlight following months of precipitation and the end of the drought in much of the state.

A surplus of water has filled several major reservoirs, which had seen perilously low water levels.

Among them is the San Luis Reservoir, which sat at just one-quarter of its capacity on Dec. 1. The basin is now 98% full.


Photos from NASA show the California landscape turning from brown to green after recent winter storms.

March 30, 2023

The reservoir, California’s fifth-largest, is located near Los Banos in Merced County and supplies water to the State Water Project.

After a stunning turnaround, it sits at 114% of its historical average level.

The photo on the left shows San Luis Reservoir on March 20, 2022, when its water level was well under half of capacity. On the right, the reservoir lost water even more by July 13 as warmer weather dried out the landscape.

The reservoir continued to lose water through the summer and fall, ultimately settling at around 25% of capacity through November and December.

A year earlier, before meager winter rains, the San Luis Reservoir had dropped to a staggering 10% of capacity in November 2021.

Diamond Valley Lake — a backbone of the region’s water storage system — should refill to its full capacity by the end of this year, officials said.

March 29, 2023

But this year has been a different story.

Atmospheric rivers have delivered incredible amounts of rain and snow, bringing record snowpack in the Sierra, the resurrection of Lake Oroville and dangerous flooding across the state.


The photo on the left is the same as above — San Luis Reservoir on July 13, 2022. By contrast, the image on the right from March 25, shows how the landscape has been transformed from brown to green, and the water level has risen significantly.

Most of the state’s reservoirs are now at or above their historical average levels.

As of March 28, state reservoirs stood at about 73% capacity, above the 30-year average of 69% for the month of March.

This season’s snowfall beats the record by nearly 30 inches, with possibly more to come. ‘We’ll be open daily through at least July,’ the resort said.

March 29, 2023

Images from space show the hard-hit California towns of Pajaro and Porterville before and after flooding caused by recent storms.

March 22, 2023

All the water came from a remarkable winter of storms.

It resulted in perhaps the deepest snowpack recorded in more than 70 years, officials said Monday. The snowpack is so deep that it currently contains roughly 30 million acre-feet of water — or more water than Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, according to a Times analysis of snow sensor data.


The major disaster declaration signed by President Biden will bring long-awaited FEMA aid to Pajaro and other storm-battered communities in California.

April 4, 2023