Severe drought has caused California’s reservoirs to run low, with Lake Oroville expected to reach a record low later this summer. Nearly three-quarters of the state is suffering from the extreme dry spell, with other areas facing a dire water supply situation and fears of wildfires.
Each year, Lake Oroville helps water a quarter of the nation’s crops and sustain endangered salmon beneath its dam. However, the lake is seen to be shrinking at a surprising speed amid a severe drought.
According to AP, state officials are forecasting it will reach a record low as hot summer looms.
If the lake drops below 195 m (640 feet), which is possible by late August, officials would have to close down a major power plant for the second time ever due to low water levels that will strain the electrical grid during the hottest part of summer. The lake’s record low is 197 m (646 feet).
While dry spells are common in California, this year is much drier than the previous seasons, with waters quickly evaporating from reservoirs.
At Lake Shasta, for instance, water levels ran low that campers have occupied dusty riverbanks.
More than 1 500 dams across the state are running 50 percent lower than they should be this time of the year, said Jay Lund, co-director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California-Davis.
As of Tuesday, June 1, 2021, the state Department of Water Resources reported that 154 major dams across the state were 66 percent of average and the snow water equivalent for the snowpack was zero percent of normal for June 1.
In Butte County, the dry situation is raising concern among residents. In 2018, the county suffered the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century when 85 people died. In 2020, another 16 people died in fires.
“It makes me feel like our planet is literally drying up,” 63-year-old resident Lisa Larson told AP. “It makes me feel a little unsettled because the drier it gets, the more fires we are going to have.”
Last year was California’s third driest on record, in terms of precipitation. Lund noted that in the previous drought, it took the dams three years to get this low as they are in the second year of dry spell.
At Lake Mendocino, water levels are so low that officials reduced the amount of water going to 930 farmers and businesses.
“Unless we immediately reduce diversions, there is a real risk of Lake Mendocino emptying by the end of this year,” said Erik Ekdahl, deputy director for the State Water Board’s Division of Water Rights.