While driving past Lake Oroville in the Northern Sierra foothills recently, I was taken back by how drastically low the water level was. On a whim, I pulled off at a public boat launch to take a closer look and was lucky enough to run into a local resident. Lake Oroville is the second largest reservoir in California. As of a few weeks ago, the reservoir was at about 30% of it’s maximum capacity and according to the local resident (whose name I didn’t get) is at the lowest he has ever seen it during his 15 years living nearby. The local explained to me that Lake Oroville and two other reservoirs agreed last year to sell larger than normal amounts of water and Lake Oroville is the only one that stood by their contract (possibly draining the reservoir deeper than expected?).
Distance is a bit deceiving in this image. The Boat Launch that you see descending down toward the lake has not been usable for the past five years according the local. It is over 1600 feet long and the lowest shadow you see crossing the ramp is about half way down the length of the ramp. The photo below was taken from the are where the shadow crossed the ramp, if you look closely you’ll see my friend Bruce (white speck) standing at the bottom of the boat ramp.
While hiking down closer to the water line, Bruce and I estimated that the high water line for the reservoir was probably 100 vertical feet above our head. This would be the distance up from the water to the bath tub ring created by the trees. There also seemed to be a secondary water line visible (you can see it when you look closely on the distant hill from the bottom of the launch) that was at least 70 vertical feet above us.
With the changes that we are all witnessing happening to our environment, water becomes a very interesting topic — especially in states like California where we get all our rain fall in a few months and have to store the water for use through out the rest of the year. Look at a terrain view of California and notice all the man made lakes and reservoirs. Now imagine a couple hundred years ago when none of those existed and how the rain water and melting snow from the Sierra Nevada would flow through the land to reach the sea.
A few months ago I was wandering through a neighborhood book store in my old San Francisco neighborhood and came across the California Natural History Guide Introduction to Water in California by David Carle. Anyone living in California would benefit from reading this book to understand the natural cycle of water in California, where their water comes from, and what impact their water has on the environment. I firmly believe that if more Californian’s read this book the future would see less reservoirs drained to look like Lake Oroville.