Why Does Whiskeytown Lake Stay Full of Water Year-Round?

With Northern California’s lakes and rivers experiencing drastically low water levels from the historic drought, there’s one lake you can see that has remained nearly full the entire time. Whiskeytown Lake is a great place to visit during a drought because it stays full to brim year round. Why is that? Let us explain…

In 1963, the Whiskeytown Dam was completed to halt the water on Clear Creek and the Trinity River and fill what is now Whiskeytown Lake. The dam was celebrated as a victory of water storage and dedicated by none other than President John. F Kennedy in front of a crowd of 10,000 locals.

When the dam was built, so was a 143,680 MW powerhouse that uses the water flow to conduct large amounts of electricity for the city of Redding. The Judge Francis Carr Powerhouse (same name as the Carr Fire) is an important generator of electricity in NorCal and Whiskeytown Lake acts as an afterbay for it. For optimal hydropower generation, the lake needs to be full pool.

Judge Francis Carr Powerhouse. Photo: Wayne Hsieh

Even with the drought, the lake only gets to 11 feet below full pool in order to allow for additional water to come through during the winter months. After precipitation and flowing water fill the lake to its full pool of 1,210 feet above sea level, the lake will stay that same level for the rest of the spring and summer months.

The many different reservoirs and dams of Northern California are unique in their own right. Shasta Dam was built strictly for crucial water storage (let’s just say, Redding would be underwater during a really wet year if the dam wasn’t there). The dams of the Klamath River provide just hydroelectric power, although they are so old it’s hardly enough to warrant the environmental impact (that’s why they’re removing the dams).

So if you want to enjoy a full lake year-round, Whiskeytown is the place for you.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California

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