If you were around here in 2014 or 2015, you were likely inundated with images of dried up reservoirs that looked like dirt canyons with little ponds in them, when a punishing drought forced the state to institute restrictions on water usage. Well, we're likely headed for another summer of dried-up lawns (and wildfires) if Mother Nature continues to withhold the rain and snow that we need to make up for a super-dry November, December, and February.
Water agencies around the Bay are starting to sound alarm bells, and as of earlier this month, Lake Oroville — the poster child in that spate of drought images seven years ago — was at 38% of its capacity. Images posted to Instagram this week show the banks of the reservoir once again much steeper than normal, with the water level very low. And the North Complex wildfires around Lake Oroville last summer have left the landscape looking charred and ashen.
As ABC 7 reports, the Marin County Water District board met on Tuesday to discuss possible restrictions on water usage. The county relies on seven reservoirs for 80% of its water, and levels are at historic lows.
Similarly, the Santa Clara Valley Water District board held a press conference yesterday to urge the public to begin conserving water.
"We have no idea how long it will last or how bad it might get,” said Tony Estremera, chairman of the district board, per the Mercury News. "Clearly we can’t just sit back and wait for more rain."
Officials said that mandatory restrictions, if deemed necessary, would not begin until later in the season, but early efforts will help.
"We’re hoping you will continue to conserve," said Aaron Baker of the district’s water utility. "If as we move forward, we see we need to call for additional restrictions or mandatory conservation, we will be making those decisions shortly. But at this time please continue your voluntary conservation."
In Sonoma County as of March 14, water storage levels are at 62.5% capacity in three main reservoirs, according to the Sonoma Water Agency — and officials are saying that levels are approaching those of the 1976-77 megadrought.
The Sierra snowpack has also not caught up to annual average levels, and the southern Sierra has had a particularly dry winter. As a result, the largest reservoirs in the state are at half or well below half their capacity as we begin to approach the dryer months.
California’s three largest water reservoirs are all at less than 3/4 of their historical averages for this time of year, seems bad pic.twitter.com/cYJ1MgF2Ki— hk (@hassankhan) March 15, 2021
"Without any series of storms on the horizon, it’s safe to say that we’ll end this year dry," said Sean de Guzman, Chief of the CA Department of Water Resources’ Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section, in a statement earlier this month.
"California’s reservoirs are starting to see the impacts of a second consecutive dry year with the state’s largest reservoirs currently storing anywhere between 38 percent of capacity at Lake Oroville ranging up to 68 percent capacity at Don Pedro," de Guzman said. "We’re not nearly as well off as we were last year right now with our reservoir storage."
Following the drought years in which Lake Oroville was last at these low levels, the El Nino winter of 2015/2016 and subsequent rain and snow the following winter pushed the reservoir way above capacity in February 2017 — causing a dramatic overspill situation at Oroville Dam and the evacuation of 188,000 area residents in danger of a major dam break.
Top image: Lake Oroville at 49% capacity in May 2015. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images