Satellite images reveal record low water level at Lake Oroville amid California’s historic drought

The water level is so low at Lake Oroville that a hydroelectric power plant has been shuttered for the first time ever

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Tuesday 28 September 2021 15:24
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Low water levels seen in Lake Oroville in California 'megadrought'

Water levels at some California lakes have dropped to dangerous lows as the US West remains gripped by a historic drought.

Satellite images taken this weekend of Lake Oroville, the state’s second-largest reservoir, revealed that it is at 22 per cent capacity.

It is a dramatic drop from earlier this year when the water level was already lower than usual. Satellite images, captured by the European Space Agency satellite Sentinel-2 on 5 March, revealed the water level at 54 per cent capacity.

In August, the water level fell so low in Lake Oroville that officials shut down a hydroelectric power plant for the first time ever. The plant can supply electricity to up to 800,000 homes when at full capacity.

Lake Oroville is a popular tourist hub in California’s northern Butte County, while sustaining an endangered salmon population and providing water for around 25 per cent of US crops.

Drought is part of the California landscape but the climate crisis is driving higher temperatures and drier conditions which have led to a so-called “megadrought” in the region. Shasta Lake, the state’s largest, is only 24 per cent full, and the arid conditions are fueling another massive wildfire season.

The majority of California is currently under “exceptional” and “extreme” drought conditions, according to the US Drought Monitor, taking a severe toll on the state’s ecosystems and agricultural production.

State and federal officials have cut water use for agriculture, forcing farmers to leave fields fallow or prioritize higher-value crops that need less water.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has also called on citizens to voluntarily reduce water use by 15 per cent.

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