California’s two main reservoirs are at dangerously low levels, indicating that the state and most of the western United States are in for a hot, dry summer ahead.
According to recent confirmation from state officials, Lake Oroville, the state’s second-largest reservoir, was just 55% full when it hit its year-end high last month. Last month, California’s most important reservoir—Shasta Lake—was only 40% full after the state had its driest year since the late 19th century.
During the worst megadrought in 1,200 years, the state is already straining to manage water resources. Both lakes’ blue water has gone, revealing the barren, brown lake bed underneath it. The Department of Water Resources has put together some striking visuals to contrast the plentiful Oroville of 2019 with the lake’s “dramatic decline in water levels” this year, according to officials.
Oroville’s tallest dam’s main spillway was degraded by millions of gallons only five years ago, necessitating the evacuation of almost 200,000 homes downstream, in February 2017.
It has already been a year of extraordinary water restrictions in the state and many rural residents expect their wells to run dry within months or weeks.
John Abatzoglou, a climatologist at the University of California, Merced, admitted, “I feel I could have become a bit numb to both the numerical records and then scenes of drought.” As a result, “it just highlights how difficult the past three years have been for our state.”
When dozens of houseboats had to be removed from the lake because there wasn’t enough water to support them, and the state’s largest hydroelectric power plant had to be shut down for the first time since it was built in 1967, Oroville seemed to be in real trouble. This year, things are better.
When it comes to climate change, “we don’t expect every season to be as dry as this year or previous,” Abatzoglou said. “However, we’ve seen an increase in aridity in California and the broader south-west.” As a result, the supply of water is diminishing.
- Shark attack in California Injures Swimmer, Authorities Say
- Plan for Carbon Neutrality in California Emissions Draws Criticism
Both the Oroville and Shasta dams are supported by the reservoirs in their respective basins. At the heart of California’s State Water Project, Oroville serves 27 million residents and 750,000 acres of agricultural land. That’s not all: The Central Valley Project, which supplies water to communities from Redding to Bakersfield, relies on Shasta.
It was stated earlier this year that only 5% of the water required by the contractors of the State Water Project could be delivered. As a result of this federal effort, the state’s agricultural belt will receive no water and the cities will only receive 25% of their historical water use.
According to Heather Cooley, a research director at the non-profit Pacific Institute, insufficient water allocations will force farmers to either fallow their fields or to rely increasingly on decreasing groundwater sources. Rural Californians, many of whom have seen their wells run dry in recent years, will be affected by this, she said.
This year’s reservoirs are expected to be too shallow and hot for aquatic life, according to the government. Reclamation and the Department of Water Resources hope to install temporary chilling units at Shasta Dam to cool the water flowing into a national fish hatchery to protect endangered winter-run Chinook salmon.
According to Karla Nemeth, director of the state’s department of water resources, state and federal agencies will take “a conservative approach to water management” during the drought. As our climate continues to change, we must prepare for a hotter and drier future.
“We’re already experiencing the effects of climate change in California,” according to researchers who determined this year’s megadrought to be the worst in 1,200 years. Cooley commented. In addition, we know that these impacts will only get worse. “
As California and the rest of the western United States confront increasingly intense heatwaves and hotter summers, the water demand is expected to rise. She adds that farmers and homeowners alike will need more water to make their fields and gardens lush.
California’s dry seasons are projected to become drier as a result of global warming, according to Allison Michaelis, an assistant professor in Northern Illinois University’s department of earth, atmosphere, and environment.
The climate crisis increased the amount of rain and snow that fell in Oroville in 2017, ahead of the flood that year, according to a study published this year in the journal Earth’s Future by Michaelis and her colleagues. Droughts of even greater severity are possible in the next decades, according to a study.
According to the study’s lead author, Michaelis, “It is difficult to tie any one, specific incident to climate change. We may, however, expect California’s hydroclimate to become more volatile as a result of our findings in our Earth’s Future paper and the findings of other scholars.