California’s largest reservoirs at critically low levels, water restrictions to come

Josue Torres
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(Courtesy of California DWR)

California, along with much of the US west, should anticipate a scorching, dry summer since the state’s two major reservoirs are at critically low levels.

The state’s second-largest reservoir, Lake Oroville, was only at 55% of its full capacity when it hit its peak for the year last month, according to confirmation from officials this week.

After the state saw its driest start to a year since the late 19th century, Shasta Lake, California’s largest reservoir, was at only 40% capacity last month.

It’s a bad indication for a state that is already having trouble managing its water supply during the worst megadrought in 1,200 years.

Both lakes’ once-glistening turquoise water has gone, exposing the barren, brown lake bed.

Pictures of a thriving Oroville in 2019 are juxtaposed with photographs from this year, when, according to authorities, the lake experienced a shocking decline in water levels.

The highest dam in the US, Oroville’s main spillway was undermined by millions of gallons of water only five years ago, in February 2017, necessitating the evacuation of almost 200,000 downstream people.

Millions of people in the state are already experiencing extraordinary water restrictions this year, and many people in rural regions anticipate that their wells may dry up in a matter of months, if not weeks.

This year, Oroville is not in as poor of shape as it was last year, when scores of houseboats had to be removed from the lake due to a lack of water, and one of the biggest hydroelectric power facilities in the state had to be shut down for the first time since it was built in 1967.

The two biggest dams in the state are backed up by the Oroville and Shasta reservoirs.

The State Water Project system, which can supply water to up to 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of agriculture, is centered in Oroville.

The federal Central Valley Project, which supplies water to places as far north as Redding and as far south as Bakersfield, also uses Shasta as its main reservoir.

Earlier this year, State Water Project officials made the announcement that they would only be able to supply their contractors with 5% of the water they had sought.

The state’s agricultural region would not receive any water from the federal initiative, which also said that cities would only receive 25% of their historical water consumption.

Officials are worried that this year’s reservoirs may also be too hot and shallow for aquatic life.

The bureau of reclamation and the department of water resources are attempting to install temporary chilling units at Shasta Dam to cool the water flowing into a national fish hatchery in an effort to safeguard endangered winter-run Chinook salmon.

The present megadrought, which scientists said to be the worst in 1,200 years, is also evidence that climate change is already having a big impact on California.

As California and most of the west experience more intense heatwaves and hotter summers, demand for water is also set to increase.

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