When it comes to rain and snow in California, this winter began with great promise. But hopes for a bountiful year appear to be evaporating.
The Sierra Nevada snowpack is at 93 percent of the historical average for the end of January, according to the state Department of Water Resources survey completed Tuesday afternoon. That's not bad -- but a month ago it was 140 percent.
What happened? Huge storms in early December dumped lots of snow across the Sierra, and rain filled reservoirs all over the state. There has been almost no rain and snow in January.
"It's not looking nearly as rosy as it did on Jan. 1," said Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program with the Department of Water Resources.
The good news: None of the Bay Area's major water providers expect summer water restrictions, at least not now.
That's because the December rains recharged aquifers, streams and reservoirs. If moderate levels of rain and snow fall in February, March and April, then 2013 will go down as the fourth year in a row since Northern California's last significant drought, which stretched from 2007 to 2009.
"We still have a few months left, but we are looking pretty good," said Allison Kastama, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which provides water from its Hetch Hetchy system to 2.5 million people in San Francisco, San Mateo County and parts of Santa Clara and Alameda counties.
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite was 69 percent full on Tuesday, 150 percent of normal for this time of year. Crystal Springs Reservoir, along Highway 280 in San Mateo County, was 89 percent full.
The story was similar in Silicon Valley.
The 10 reservoirs operated by the Santa Clara Valley Water District are 53 percent full -- the best shape in three years.
Meanwhile, the vast underground aquifers where Santa Clara County stores much of its water are above normal levels as well. They currently hold about 347,000 acre-feet, an amount equal to all the water used by the county's 1.8 million people in a year.
On top of that, the district has an additional 308,000 acre-feet stored underground near Bakersfield at the Semitropic Water District. Altogether, that means the district has a two-year supply in the bank.
"Our reservoirs are above where we'd normally see them this time of year, our groundwater conditions are good, our imported water supplies are good," said Terri Anderson, operations planning manager for the Santa Clara Valley Water District. "We're able to handle whatever rainfall Mother Nature gives us, although we are always hoping for more."
Rainfall around the Bay Area is falling in line so far this winter with historic averages: 7.88 inches in San Jose since July 1, compared with a season normal of 7.73 inches for this date. At San Francisco International Airport, rainfall has been 11.2 inches since July 1, compared with a season normal of 11.35 inches.
In Oakland, 11.28 inches of rain has fallen, compared with a season normal of 11.38 inches. In Livermore, there's been 9.00 inches of rain, compared with a season normal of 8.66 inches.
The state's major reservoirs, which send billions of gallons of water in the summer to cities and farms, swelled considerably during December, as runoff from the heavy rains poured in. And most of that water is still there.
On Tuesday, Shasta Lake, the largest reservoir in California, was 76 percent full, 111 percent of normal for this date. Lake Oroville, Folsom Lake and Don Pedro Reservoir were, respectively, at 113, 110 and 99 percent of normal.
The conditions are a far cry from the last drought.
In 2009, water districts around the Bay Area put in place rules requiring odd-even lawn-watering days, bans on restaurants serving water unless customers asked for it, and surcharges for using more than allotted amounts. But those rules -- which cost water agencies tens of millions of dollars in lost water sales -- were dropped in 2010 when a bountiful rainfall and snow season again filled reservoirs.
In the East Bay, water storage has grown since then. Last summer, construction crews finished adding 34 feet to the height to Los Vaqueros Dam in Contra Costa County, a $120 million project that increased the reservoir capacity by 60 percent. On Tuesday, Los Vaqueros held 109,436 acre-feet of water. An acre-foot, about 325,851 gallons, is the amount of water a family of five uses in a year.
"So far, things are looking positive," said Contra Costa Water District spokeswoman Jennifer Allen.
It was the same story at the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which serves 1.3 million customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The district's main storage area, Pardee Reservoir in Calaveras County, was 87 percent full on Tuesday.
"We're in great shape. At this point its very unlikely we'll have summer water restrictions," said district spokesman Charles Hardy. "We could have three dry months in a row, and all of that could change, but if we get a couple more storms between now and May, we'll be fine. "
Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at Twitter.com/PaulRogersSJMN.