Droughts in California have led Lake Oroville’s water levels to drop dramatically, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
Photos show quite how drastically the water level in the lake has dropped: in 2019, the lake water sits right up by the treeline, while now, there is a significant amount of bank between the water and the trees. In 2021, the lake, which is north of Sacramento, nearly dried up entirely.
Built in 1967, Lake Oroville is a reservoir formed after the Oroville Dam was built on the Feather River. It is one of the two largest reservoirs in the state along with Lake Shasta. Both are currently experiencing huge droughts and drops in water levels. Lake Oroville provides drinking water to 27 million people as well as to 750,000 acres of farmland.
Most of California has been suffering from droughts ranging from severe to exceptional, according to a report from the US drought monitor released last week. According to CNN, in May, Lake Oroville was at a mere 55 percent of its capacity, and Shasta Lake was at 40 percent, the lowest it has been at this time of year since 1977.
This is a problem for a number of reasons. First, it is expected that a lot of farmland will be too dry to grow crops.
“Communities across California are going to suffer this year during the drought, and it’s just a question of how much more they suffer,” Jessica Gable, a member of nonprofit advocacy group Food & Water Watch, told CNN. “It’s usually the most vulnerable communities who are going to suffer the worst, so usually the Central Valley comes to mind because this is an already arid part of the state with most of the state’s agriculture and most of the state’s energy development, which are both water-intensive industries. “
The Edward Hyatt power plant, which is powered by Oroville Dam, provides around 1 percent of California’s electricity. If the water levels drop below the intake pipes that water flows into, spinning the six huge turbines, then the dam will be producing no electricity. This exact event happened in the summer of 2021.
According to local paper Mercury Newswhile this alone isn’t enough to cause significant problems, if the same thing happens to other hydroelectric dams across California — a major possibility considering the droughts currently gripping the state — there may end up being power outages, as hydroelectricity provides about 15 percent of California’s electricity each year.
“The fact that this [dam] shut down last August; that never happened before, and the prospects that it will happen again are very real, “California Governor Gavin Newsom said at a news conference in April 2022.
The dropping water levels in Oroville also affect a hatchery of endangered Chinook salmon. According to CNN, the Department of Water Resources is attempting to prevent fish deaths by inserting temporary chilling units to cool water down at one of the fish hatcheries.
With most of California in the highest-level bracket listed on the US drought tracker, the state will face other issues including increased wildfires, low vegetable harvests, algal blooms, poor air quality, dried wetlands and, of course, water shortages.
“Water is supposed to be a human right,” Gable told CNN. “But we are not thinking that, and I think until that changes, then unfortunately, water scarcity is going to continue to be a symptom of the worsening climate crisis.”