California Sees Third Driest Water Year in Recorded History

Lake Oroville. Photo: California Department of Water Resources

If you thought this year was dry in California, you’re right on the nose. In fact, this is the third driest water year seen in California’s recorded history.

Drought concerns are sitting in the forefront of many minds in Northern California this spring, with little-to-no precipitation bringing concerns of low water storage and looming wildfire impact. Following a 7 year stretch of drought from 2011 to 2019, our worst concerns have been realized once again. California is on the verge of another extreme drought.

Results from the California Department of Water Resources final snow survey of the water year in the Sierra revealed that snowpack currently sits at 70 percent of historical average, however, rain is below 50 percent of average, which ties this year for the third driest year on record.

The 2021 water year is tied for third-driest with 2014, following the second driest in 1924. California’s driest year on record was in 1977, when recorded precipitation was less than 35 percent of historical average.

Current reservoir conditions show a dry scene throughout NorCal. Trinity and Shasta lakes currently sit just above 60 percent of historical average, while Oroville and Folsom are just above 50 percent. All the major reservoirs currently sit at a low capacity for the peak of the water year, with Folsom at a paltry 37 percent.

In a statement, California DWR Department Director Karla Nemeth said that there is “no doubt California is in a critically dry year.” 

“State agencies, water suppliers and Californians are more prepared than ever to adapt to dry conditions and meet the challenges that may be ahead,” she continued. “With climate change impacting how precipitation falls in California, ongoing water efficiency and long-term efforts like recycling water, capturing stormwater, and planting water-friendly landscapes are essential to securing California’s water future.”

Fish migrations are also expected to be impacted by drought conditions, particularly salmon runs struggling during lowered river runs this fall. Hydropower is also expected to be lowered to keep water levels up in reservoirs like Trinity Lake and Lake Shasta.

Of course, most NorCal residents will name their number one concern with the drought being wildfires, which ravaged communities in the summer of 2018 following 6 years of drought. That wildfire season saw the devastating flames of the Carr Faire, Camp Fire and Mendocino Complex Fire.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California

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