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California drought has dried up 60% of state's second-largest reservoir

By
Zachary Rosenthal, Accuweather.com
Memorial Day holiday boaters are seen at Lake Oroville in Northern California on Monday. Meteorologists say the lake is severely low due to drought conditions. Photo by Frank Schulenburg/Wikimedia Commons (unmodified)
Memorial Day holiday boaters are seen at Lake Oroville in Northern California on Monday. Meteorologists say the lake is severely low due to drought conditions. Photo by Frank Schulenburg/Wikimedia Commons (unmodified)

June 4 -- With the drought across California growing worse every week and most of the state in extreme or exceptional drought -- not to mention a prolonged heat wave that has been affecting much of the region -- some of the state's most critical reservoirs are drying out.

Lake Oroville, the second-largest reservoir in the state, is at just 38% of total capacity. While this number is above the all-time low of 24.9% in September 1977, the lake is noticeably depleted, as AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell saw firsthand when he made a visit there this week.

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During a live appearance Wadell made on the AccuWeather TV Network, temperature was well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit at Lake Oroville, which is in Northern California about 80 miles north of Sacramento.

"The lake is as low as I have seen it this time of year. Ever," Peggy Schultz, an Oroville resident, told Wadell.

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The extremely low water levels in these crucial reservoirs have come as a bit of a surprise to the California Department of Water Resources. The Sierra snowpack, which melts down into the reservoirs in the spring and summer, was at roughly 59% of average this year, Wadell reported, but much of the runoff did not make it to the reservoirs.

Overall, California received about 50% of its average precipitation during the 2021 water year, according to an annual DWR survey, making for the third-driest year in the Golden State's history.

"One of the things we clearly need to do is improve our forecasting so that we can do a better job of understanding how climate change is affecting what runs off and makes it to our reservoirs," said Jeanine Jones, Interstate Resources Manager at the California Department of Water Services.

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The low water levels at these reservoirs are concerning local residents who worry about the imposition of water restrictions in the coming months.

California water officials are focused on managing the reservoirs to ensure that everyone has enough water this summer and fall. They believe that it have should have enough water this year, but officials there are already concerned about the water supply in 2022, especially if next year becomes the third dry year in a row.

The hot and dry conditions across California have also increased concern about wildfires this year.

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AccuWeather forecasters are predicting an active wildfire season across Northern California, Nevada, Utah and the Desert Southwest.

"We've been through three [wildfires] in the last four years that we've had to evacuate for," said Kasey Kelly, an Oroville resident.

AccuWeather's 2021 wildfire season forecast predicts an active and long-lasting wildfire season across many of the same areas that were blackened in 2020, including the desert Southwest and Northern California.

Wildfire season begins in earnest across Northern California this month, with the risk spreading towards Southern California and the Pacific Northwest closer to August.

Reporting by Bill Wadell

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