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It’s Not Even Summer, and California’s Two Largest Reservoirs Are at ‘Critically Low’ Levels

At a point in the year when California’s water storage should be at its highest, the state’s two largest reservoirs have already dropped to critically low levels — a sobering outlook for the hotter and drier months ahead.

Shasta Lake, which rises more than 1,000 feet above sea level when filled to the brim, is at less than half of where it usually should be in early May — the driest it has been at this time of year since record-keeping first began in 1976. Lake Oroville, the largest reservoir in the State Water Project, a roughly 700-mile lifeline that pumps and ferries water all the way to Southern California, is currently at 55% of total capacity.

‘Urgency Change’ Will Allow More Water to Be Stored in Lake Oroville and Shasta Lake

Federal and state water agencies have issued an urgency change to conserve more water in Lake Oroville and Shasta Lake.

District 1 Rep. Doug LaMalfa announced Wednesday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and California Department of Water Resources have issued a temporary urgency change petition. It will be in effect now through June 30.

The urgency petition allows the State Water Project and Central Valley Project to release less water through the Delta, in order to conserve stored water at reservoirs including Shasta Lake, Lake Oroville and Folsom Lake.

Where California’s Key Reservoirs Stand After the 2nd Driest January Ever

California hasn’t seen rain in over a month, and some of the state’s key reservoirs are starting to be impacted.

Shasta Lake, the state’s largest reservoir, was at 54% of its historical average as of Feb. 9, compared to 72% last year, the California Department of Water Resources said. San Luis Reservoir on the eastern slope of the Diablo range is at 59% of its historical average, compared to 71% last year.

Other reservoirs are up from where they were at this time last year.

“This would be expected given that last year was the 2nd driest year for CA in our observed record and the 2020-2021 two year period set a new record for dryness,” Michael Anderson, the state climatologist for the Department of Water Resources, wrote in an email.

Rain Does Lake Oroville Good

As the calendar prepares to turn into 2022, Northern California is getting covered with snow, and rainfall in Butte County is leading to more water in Lake Oroville.

As of midnight Tuesday, Lake Oroville had 1,323,897 acre-feet of water in it. While that number is 37% of the lake’s capacity, it also reflects 72% of its average storage his time of year.

Shasta Dam Still at 25% Capacity After Second-Driest Summer

Despite the wet start to this year’s rain season, Shasta Dam remains at only 25% capacity.

“So three-quarters of the lake is empty; we need some really significant winter storms back-to-back-to-back to help fill this lake,” said Don Bader, the area manager at Shasta Dam.

Bader says they would like to have the dam typically around 60% full during this time of year. He says the dam depends mostly on rainfall.

California Reservoir Levels Continue to Drop. Here’s Why Relief May Be Coming Even Later in the Year.

Dangerously low water levels at Shasta Lake were captured on drone video by ABC10 reporter John Bartell and photojournalist Tyler Horst on Tuesday.

Shasta Lake is California’s largest reservoir, capable of holding 4,552,000 acre feet of water. Right now, it has 1,186,057 acre feet of water stored. Breaking that down into percentages, the reservoir is at 26% capacity and 42% of average for this date.

Dramatic Photos From NASA Highlight Severity of California’s Drought

As the West descends deeper into drought, climate and water experts are growing increasingly alarmed by California’s severely shriveling reservoirs.

On Monday, Shasta Lake — the largest reservoir in the state — held a scant 1.57 million acre-feet of water, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, or about 35% of its capacity.

A series of satellite images captured by NASA show just how dramatically the water level has fallen.

Final Plan for Water Releases Into Sacramento River Could Kill Up to 88% of Endangered Salmon Run

The California water board has approved a plan for water releases into the Sacramento River that could kill off an entire run of endangered chinook salmon and put at risk another population that is part of the commercial salmon fishery.

The State Water Resources Control Board has informed the federal Bureau of Reclamation it would accept its final plan for managing water flows from Shasta Lake into the Sacramento River, which is both the main source of water for Central Valley farms and the spawning habitat for chinook salmon. Because the bureau’s plan involves releasing water to irrigation districts earlier in the season, the river will be lower and warmer during salmon spawning season and could result in killing as many as 88% of endangered winter-run chinook eggs and young fish.