The answer lies in the environmental regulations implemented to protect the Delta Smelt, a 5-7cm fish and endangered resident of the California Delta. Regulations designed to protect the non-native species have prevented pumping of water from the California Delta in Northern California leaving many reservoirs in Southern California empty. So rather than take advantage of a solid rainy season the State of California has opted to squander the opportunity to refill its water infrastructure and pump the water through the San Francisco bay and into the Pacific Ocean instead.
As background, the majority of California’s precipitation falls in the northern part of the state. Historically, that precipitation flowed through various rivers and accumulated in the California Delta between Sacramento and San Francisco. The water was then pumped from the California Delta into various state and federal water projects to supply water to farmers, residential and commercial interests in the southern part of the state. In recent years, however, pumping from the Delta has been limited or outright restricted in favor of protecting various environmental concerns, including the Delta Smelt population. When not pumped into the canal systems, the water that accumulates in the Delta is simply flushed into the Pacific Ocean. In fact, nearly 50% of California’s annual fresh water supply is flushed into the Pacific Ocean each year despite “severe drought” conditions.
Emptying reservoirs, then screaming DROUGHT, is the height of both stupidity and cruelty to the residents of the state.