Reservoirs are getting a big boost from 'Miracle March' — but the drought isn't over yet

So much rain has fallen in Northern California recently that federal officials have done what would have been unthinkable a year ago. They opened the spill gates at Folsom Lake and let precious water tumble into the American River as a precaution against — of all things — flooding.

A series of storms during this "Miracle March" has caused Folsom and two of its neighbors, Lake Oroville and Shasta Lake, to swell. The massive reservoirs are at above-average levels for the first time since the spring of 2013.

But experts say subsequent reports of the drought's demise have been exaggerated. With the state's most-telling snowpack measurement less than two weeks away, California can boast little more than an average year of rain and snow.

"Better than last two, but not as good as we'd like it to be," said Jay Lund, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis who studies water resource management.

Even with the recent rains, reservoir storage statewide remains below average. Although the state's snowpack is much improved, it also remains below normal, and groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley is still critically overdrafted, as it has been for decades.

The situation leaves regulators in something akin to drought purgatory. As they form their battle plan for 2016, officials must prod Californians to keep conserving even as they consider softening water-use restrictions and watch lawns turn green again.

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