The water level at Lake Oroville just north of Sacramento has dropped dramatically, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
Lake Oroville almost dried up three years ago. It is one of the two largest reservoirs in the state along with Lake Shasta. Both are currently experiencing huge droughts and drops in water levels. Lake Oroville provides drinking water to 27 million people as well as to 750,000 acres of farmland.
Most of California has been suffering from droughts ranging from severe to exceptional, according to a recent report from the U.S. Drought Monitor. News reports indicate that Lake Oroville is just under 55 percent of its capacity. Lake Shasta Lake is reportedly at 40 percent, the lowest it has been at this time of year since 1977.
“Communities across California are going to suffer this year during the drought, and it’s just a question of how much more they suffer,” said Jessica Gable, a member of nonprofit advocacy group Food & Water Watch. “It’s usually the most vulnerable communities who are going to suffer the worst, so usually the Central Valley comes to mind because this is an already arid part of the state with most of the state’s agriculture.”
The Edward Hyatt power plant, which is powered by the Oroville Dam, provides around 1 percent of California’s electricity. If the water levels drop below the intake pipes that water flows into, spinning the six huge turbines, then the dam will be producing no electricity. This exact event happened in the summer of 2021.
Hydroelectricity is an important factor in California energy. It’s about 15 percent of the state’s electricity. The San Jose Mercury News if the water level continues to drop at the adjacent Edward Hyatt power plant, the same thing happens to other hydroelectric dams across California, a series of power outages may ensue.
“The fact that this [dam] shut down last August; that never happened before, and the prospects that it will happen again are very real,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a news conference in April.
With most of California in the highest-level bracket listed on the U.S. drought tracker, the state will face other issues including increased wildfires, low vegetable harvests, algal blooms, poor air quality, dried wetlands and, of course, water shortages.
“Water is supposed to be a human right,” Gable said. “But we are not thinking that, and I think until that changes, then unfortunately, water scarcity is going to continue to be a symptom of the worsening climate crisis.”