New photos show dramatic difference in water levels in California’s drought-stricken Lake Oroville from 2021 to today where it is at 100% capacity
One of the West Coast’s most important reservoirs is now sitting at 100 percent capacity after spending years at near-zero levels. The nearly 12 atmospheric rivers that hit California this winter led to the complete refilling of many of the state’s main reservoirs. The images show the huge difference a rainy season can make in terms of reservoir fullness and the greening of surrounding areas.
California’s Lake Oroville is one of several important reservoirs in the American West that reached critical low levels during the drought, but are now full to the brim.
The stunning images of Enterprise Bridge provide a comparison between Lake Oroville in July 2021 and June 2023, when the reservoir was completely filled for the first time since 2012.
By the end of 2021, Oroville’s water levels had dropped to their lowest level of just 628 feet, or 24 percent of capacity. Where now, levels are measuring at 100 percent capacity, and 127 percent of where they normally are at this time of year.
Lake Oroville, California in 2021, when the main West Coast reservoir sits at a dangerously low level
Now, the reservoir is 100 percent full, after a year that included record rainfall and snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
California’s Lake Oroville is one of several important reservoirs in the American West that reached severely low levels during the drought, but are now filled to the brim.
According to Carla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources, the improvement in drought conditions in California is a ‘definite difference’ compared to the past three years.
Oroville, which holds 3.5 million acre-feet of water, receives most of its runoff in April from the snowpack of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountains received 200 percent more snowpack than normal this year due to nearly a dozen atmospheric rivers that hit the West Coast this winter.
An atmospheric river is a narrow corridor of condensed moisture, or, water vapor, carried by air from the tropics. They can bring significant rain with them.
Melting snowpack is a major contributor to nearly full reservoirs in California.
“It’s refreshing to see other State Water Project (SWP) reservoirs like Lake Oroville and San Luis,” Nemeth said.
The San Luis Reservoir in Merced, California is about 99 percent full. In April, it was sitting at 114 percent of its historical average.
This time last year, the reservoir was sitting at less than half capacity and continued to draw water during the warmer months.
Excessive regional rains, snow and floods this year have turned the areas around both reservoirs from brown, dry landscapes to green.
A boat leaves a dock on Lake Oroville on June 15, 2023 in Oroville, California. Lake Oroville, California’s second-largest reservoir, is at 100 percent capacity after several winter storms brought record snowfall to California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Water is released into Lake Oroville’s main spillway on June 15, 2023 in Oroville, California, in an aerial view.
Satellite images show the difference in San Luis Reservoir between last summer and now
California’s largest reservoir, about 120 miles north of Lake Oroville, is near full — reaching about 97 percent capacity last week.
In April, when most reservoirs were measuring near full, DWR announced that the state water project would provide 100 percent allocation for the first time in more than 15 years.
That means officials are monitoring the strategic release of water into the reservoir as the snowpack melts more quickly in the warmer months, allowing water to continue flowing into the lake to avoid flooding.
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