Satellite Photos Show Northern California Reservoirs Rising Rapidly

After a series of intense atmospheric-river storms hit California this winter, the state’s largest reservoirs have seen a substantial increase in their water levels. Before-and-after satellite images from NASA Earth Observatory demonstrate the significant change brought on by the early-winter storms.

As of November 19, Shasta Lake was at 31% capacity, according to the California Department of Water Resources. Here’s a sattelite photo of the lake then:

Shasta Lake – November 18, 2022

By January 29, after the first deluge, Shasta had risen to 56%. Here’s what it looked like then:

Shasta Lake – January 29, 2023

Although the February storms were not included in the photos, recent data from the California Department of Water Resources shows that the reservoir has climbed to 60%. Although it remains below the historical average of 72% for February, it is significantly higher than it was.

Another important water supply component, Lake Oroville, has also benefited from the early-winter storms. The satellite photos indicate that the reservoir was at 28% of its capacity on November 19, well below its historical average:

By January 30, it had risen to 64%, and the updated figures from Monday showed that it had reached 72%, surpassing the February historical average of 63%:

Although the reservoirs’ levels have improved significantly, California is still experiencing a severe drought. Experts have stated that it would take more than just a few storms to make up for years of water deficits. Groundwater depletion remains a concern, particularly in places like the Central Valley, where levels are still dangerously low.

Despite this, the storms have had a significant impact. While water systems are complex, the US Drought Monitor showed that the state was entirely free of exceptional and extreme drought, which had affected 41% of the state three months prior. The proportion of the state in severe drought or worse has dropped from 85% to 33% in those three months.

Although the photos demonstrate the positive impact of the early-winter storms, California still has a long way to go in addressing the drought. But the improvement in reservoir levels is a promising sign and a reminder of the importance of conserving water in the face of climate change.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California

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