New drone photos of Lake Oroville, California’s second largest reservoir, are a reminder of the harsh reality of the state’s worsening drought.
The images, taken by photographer Justin Sullivan on Tuesday, show the huge Butte County lake only 42% filled. This is only half of its historical average for that date.
Built in the 1960s by former Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown, father of Jerry Brown, the reservoir holds 3.5 million acres of feet when full – enough water for about 18 million people. per year. The huge reservoir captures water from the Feather River watershed and its dam is the tallest in the United States, measuring 770 feet tall.
The dam spillway collapsed in massive storms in 2017. A billion dollar construction project has since rebuilt and modernized the dam. The last time Lake Oroville was this low was during the 2012-2016 drought, and its images became one of the symbols of California’s historic water scarcity during that crisis.
Why is this lake in rural northern California, about 120 miles north of Sacramento, so important?
Lake Oroville is a key part of the State Water Project – a massive system of 21 dams and 701 miles of pipes and canals that carries water from northern California to the south. The State Water Project essentially takes slush from the Sierra Nevada, captures it, and transports it from Lake Oroville through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to San Diego. In doing so, it provides drinking water to 27 million people from Silicon Valley to the Los Angeles Basin and irrigates approximately 750,000 acres of farmland.
But after two consecutive dry winters, there isn’t much water to carry. Last month, the State Department of Water Resources announced that it planned to provide only 5% of requested supplies this year. The final allocation will be announced in May.
“We are now faced with the reality that this will be a second dry year for California and that it has a significant impact on our water supply,” said Karla Nemeth, director of the State Department of Natural Resources at the time. water.
On April 1, usually at the end of the winter snow season, the Sierra Nevada snowpack, the source of nearly a third of California’s water, was 59% of the average. Last year, April 1, it was 54% of normal. Meanwhile, precipitation levels in most cities in the Bay Area are currently 35% to 40% of normal.
Reservoir levels in other parts of the state, particularly the Central Valley and Southern California, are in better condition than Oroville. So far, most of the major Bay Area water agencies have asked clients for voluntary conservation, saying their groundwater and reservoir levels are adequate for this year.
But experts say if next winter is also dry, cities and state water agencies will almost certainly have mandatory water restrictions.
The dry weather also increased the risk of fire. Last year, in part due to a series of thunderstorms, 4.1 million acres burned statewide, the worst fire season in modern California history. Fire officials say this year is also expected to present a high fire risk, as already low moisture levels in brush, trees and grasses dry out even more. Heavy rains in California are not expected for six or seven months, until next winter’s rainy season begins.
California’s largest reservoir, Shasta Lake, near Redding, was also depleted on Thursday. It was 51% full, or about 59% of its historical average for that date. Shasta is the linchpin of California’s other major water distribution system, the Central Valley Project, which is managed by the Federal Office of Reclamation. The Central Valley Project primarily supplies water to farmers in the Central Valley, although it does provide some of it to urban areas, including Santa Clara County.