In the past few months, Northern California has experienced storms that have brought some relief to the severe drought afflicting the state, with water levels dropping to shockingly low levels in recent years. Now, those lakes are coming back to life
Lake Oroville has seen a remarkable transformation in the past 6 months, with its capacity now at 94 percent full and 120 percent of historical average. A photographer that documented the drought inflicted region in 2021, went back to the lake to show just how much water has entered the region.
See Josh Edelson’s photos (swiper through to see them all):
Now that’s an incredible transformation.
Despite the spillway being open earlier this month for the first time since 2019, the dramatic rise in water at Lake Oroville since last summer occurred. The California Department of Water Resources carried out a controlled release to minimize the risk of floods ahead of the recent storm, which brought heavy rainfall across California. On the ground, data from the Department of Water Resources confirms that 12 out of 17 major water supply reservoirs in the state were at or above their historical averages for late March. However, experts warn that high reservoir levels are not a cure-all for California’s long-standing water crisis, as other factors need to be considered.
The snowpack in the mountains, particularly in the Sierra Nevada range, is at or near all-time records. As the snow melts, it will feed downstream reservoirs deep into the summer when large, moisture-packed storms become less likely to impact the state. Precipitation estimates from the National Weather Service’s Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service show that areas near California’s Pacific coast, as well as in the state’s foothills and mountains, have received between 30 to 100 inches of liquid equivalent precipitation over the past 180 days since late September, which is 200 to 400% of normal for that time frame.
Officials have had to switch from a drought control to a flood management posture due to the sheer amount of water that has poured into the state’s reservoir system. Reservoirs serve a dual purpose of flood control during the winter months, and as the state heads into a climatologically drier time of year from the late spring through the summer months, the frequency of storms that help fill the reservoirs will diminish.
Californians are always on edge due to recent memories of long-term droughts. Groundwater supplies, which have been depleted in recent years, provide 60% of residential and agricultural water use, making them a crucial source of water supply.
“People are very focused on the reservoir levels right now, but it’s important to recognize that groundwater is also a very important source of water supply for California,” said Jeanine Jones, Interstate Resources Manager for the California Department of Water Resources. “Even though the state has many surface water reservoirs that are full and making releases, it will take many years to replenish the groundwater levels that have been depleted over our last numerous dry years.”