The shore of Lake Shasta behind Shasta Dam in Lake Shasta, Calif., is seen Sunday, March 13, 2016. The lake's water level has been rising after a series of storms brought strong winds, periods of heavy rain, snow and high surf to California Sunday, the fourth straight day of wet weather. The lake is rising after several years of dropping water levels due to the ongoing California drought. (Nathan Solis/The Record Searchlight via AP)

The shore of Shasta Lake behind Shasta Dam in Shasta Lake, Calif., is seen Sunday, March 13, 2016. The lake’s water level has been rising after a series of storms brought strong winds, periods of heavy rain, snow and high surf to California Sunday, the fourth straight day of wet weather. The lake is rising after several years of dropping water levels due to the ongoing California drought. (Nathan Solis/The Record Searchlight via AP) (Nathan Solis)

By Paul Rogers, progers@mercurynews.com
Posted: 03/13/2016 – 06:18:16 PM PDT |

Sunday’s storms brought more rain to Northern California, but they also helped the state hit a key milestone in its efforts to recover from the historic four-year drought.

Shasta Lake, the largest reservoir in California and a critical source of water for Central Valley farms and cities from the Bay Area to Bakersfield, reached 100 percent of its historic average Sunday as billions of gallons continued to pour in from drenching downpours.

The 21-mile-long reservoir, north of Redding, holds enough water when full for the needs of 23 million people for a year. Three months ago, on Dec. 8, it was just 29 percent full. On Sunday, it hit 77 percent full — and 101 percent of the historic average for mid-March — the first time it has reached that “normal” milestone in three years.

“It’s just pouring up here,” said Tom Groves, a manager at Shasta Marina at Packers Bay. “The wind is so strong, there are whitecaps and waterfalls all around the lake. A lot of people think it takes years to fill the lake after a drought. But all it needs is one good winter. It will probably be full by May.”

Similarly, the state’s second-largest reservoir, Oroville in Butte County, reached 69 percent full on Sunday — 96 percent of its historic average for mid-March. The largest reservoir that serves the 1.4 million customers of the East Bay Municipal Utility District, Pardee, in the Sierra Nevada’s Mokelumne watershed, hit 89 percent full — 103 percent of average.

“This March is wetter than I expected. After February, I was worried,” said Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis. “This is really going to help a lot.”

Meanwhile, Loch Lomond Reservoir, the largest in Santa Cruz County, also spilled over its dam Sunday, filling to the top for the first time since 2013.

“It’s very good news,” said Eileen Cross, a spokeswoman for the Santa Cruz Water Department, which serves 93,000 people. “A lot depends on what happens these next few weeks. Based on the supply we have now in the reservoir, that would suggest that we don’t need to do restrictions this summer. We’ll know by the beginning of April what course of action we’ll be taking.”

Sunday’s storms ended a wet weekend across the Bay Area. Waves in the ocean reached 20 feet, and mountain areas were soaked, with occasional power outages, minor mudslides and downed trees. A sinkhole at Rheem Shopping Center in Moraga caused a gas line break, with no fire, prompting police Sunday to evacuate people within a quarter-mile.

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