The California Outer Reservoir is expected to reach a historic low water level this summer.

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Lake Oroville on the morning of Memorial Day 2021. In May 2021, water levels in Lake Oroville fell to 38% of capacity. Ships are bogged down by exposed banks as California heads into another year of drought. Image – Frank Schulenburg CC SA 4.0

California’s second largest reservoir, Lake Oroville, is considered a key facility within the state’s water project. The reservoir not only stores water, but is essential for flood control, recreation, freshwater emissions that help control salinity intrusion in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and protect fish and life. wild.

Lake Oroville, in Butte County, California, is fed primarily by the Feather River, along with other streams, giving it a catchment area of ​​10,200 square miles.

With 167 miles of coastline, the reservoir has a capacity of 3,536,577 acres-feet (4,363,530,477.96 cubic meters). But the mighty lake, a backbone in a system of aqueducts and reservoirs in the arid western United States that makes California possible, is shrinking at an astonishing rate due to the severe drought hitting the western part of the United States. Units.

John Yarbrough is the deputy director of the state water project. He says the drought is so intense this year that the state anticipates the possibility of being forced to close the Lake Oroville hydroelectric plant.

At full capacity, the Edward Hyatt power plant can generate enough energy to serve 800,000 homes. It now operates at 20% capacity and could close in late August.

Lake Oroville Reservoir in 2011. The dam is seen in the center left. Image courtesy of Quinn Comendant, CC SA 2.0.

The drought in California in 2021 is a real doozie

This year’s drought has been much hotter and drier than the previous ones and each of the 1,500 reservoirs in the state has suffered, ending with 50% or less capacity. In April this year, Lake Oroville dropped to 42 percent capacity.

Over Memorial Day weekend, dozens of houseboats sat on the ashes of Lake Oroville because there was not enough water to hold them. Blackened trees lined the steep margins of the reservoir.

The same could be said of almost Lake Folsom and Lake Shasta, where campers occupied the dusty banks that descended into the slowly evaporating water. But the real problem is more than meeting the needs of people seeking recreation.

The state also needs fresh water from reservoirs to avoid salt water that harms freshwater fish and salmon need fresh water at the bottom of deep reservoirs to generate.

Indian Falls on the North Fork of the Feather River in 2019. Image – Michael Fiegle, CC SA 4.0.

Most importantly, farmers need water, much for their crops, and everyone needs water to run hydropower plants that supply much of the state’s energy.

If Lake Oroville falls below 640 feet (195 meters), which could go very well in August, the power plant on Lake Oroville it would close for the second time since it began generating energy in 1968.

The voltage in the mains during the hottest part of summer would be horrible. In addition, there is also a fear that cannot be said: Butte County suffered the deadliest forest fire in the United States in a century in 2018 when 85 people died. Last year, another 16 people died in gunpowder.

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