After years of drought, people in California will be happy to hear that their lakes are almost full again. New satellite pictures show that the water level in Shasta Lake, California’s biggest reservoir, will rise from 31% of capacity in November 2018 to almost 100% in May 2023. Heavy rains and a lot of mountain snow that melted into the nearby rivers filled up the reservoir.
After years of harsh drought in the U.S. Southwest, this lake is at its highest level in more than four years. Scientists are trying to find ways to put any extra water into ground reservoirs so that the next expected drought won’t be as bad.
Shasta Lake is the 8th biggest reservoir that people have made in the United States. It has 587 kilometers (365 miles) of coast, most of which is made up of mountains, and the deepest point is 157 meters (517 feet) The biggest lake in the U.S. is Lake Mead in Nevada.
Here is a picture of Shasta Lake from November 18, 2022, just a few months ago. The “bathtub ring” of tan around the lake shows where the water was in years past.
By May 29, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) said that it was 98 percent full and that the brown ring had gone away.
Shasta Lake was made by the Shasta Dam in 1948. The dam was planned for as early as 1919, and it was built from 1935 to 1945. Its main goal is to prevent flooding, store water for farming, and make hydroelectric power.
The second biggest reservoir in the state, Lake Oroville, was also almost full on May 29. It was 97 percent full.
NASA warns that full lakes do not mean that there will be plenty of water for years to come. Also, the higher water levels in the lakes do not necessarily mean that the groundwater stores are getting more water, which is a big worry for the state of California.
“The last four years show how much reservoirs can change in just one or two years,” said Lindsey Doermann of NASA’s Earth Observatory. “In addition to the many things that need water, the lake levels need to go down to make room for flood control in the wetter months. The California DWR is working with other groups to improve forecasting and observation tools so that water releases can be made more effective.”
About ten years ago, California passed a law to keep groundwater reserves from being drained too much for farming. A story on Cal Matters, a state news website, says that the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act tells local groundwater agencies to stop long-term depletion and make the water supply sustainable. But the dates are still almost 20 years away, and basins are still being stressed. During dry years, two-thirds of the water used by farms may come from the ground.
In the Cal Matters story, Jeanine Jones, a drought manager with the California DWR, said, “One wet year is nowhere near enough to make up for the groundwater storage we’ve lost over the last ten years or more.”
A new study that used data from NASA’s GRACE and GRACE Follow-On satellite missions found that the Central Valley has been losing groundwater at a faster rate since 2003.
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NASA said that people in California are trying to make the most of the recent floods. Some groundwater recharge happens naturally, but resource managers can also use other methods, like sending water into ditches or ponds and then injecting it into the ground, to send water underground.
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