In Northern California’s Butte County, at least 130 houseboats were evacuated from Lake Oroville as water levels fell to dangerously low levels.
The lake’s record low is 646 feet, and the state’s Department of Water Resources expects that level to be breached in August. If that happens, public boat ramps would be inaccessible for the first due to low water levels. According to Aaron Wright, public safety chief for the Northern Buttes District of California State Parks, who spoke with AP, the only boat access point to the lake would be an old dirt road constructed in the late 1960s.
Eric Smith, an Oroville City Council member and president of its chamber of commerce, said the lake would not be usable this year. Over a million visitors visit the area each year. Without visitors, enjoying boat parties, wakeboarding, or relaxing in the sun, the local economy could take a hit as it attempts to recover from the virus pandemic.
As of Wednesday, The Weather Channel states the lake was at 38% of capacity and 45% of the average early June water level. Low water levels forced park officials to order 130 houseboats to exit the lake in recent weeks.
The mighty lake provides drinking water to 27 million people and water to 4-5 million acres of farmland. Severe drought conditions plague the area, and low snowpack levels from the Sierra Nevada have culminated into a perfect storm.
According to Jay Lund, co-director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California-Davis, the state’s 1,500 reservoirs are 50% lower than average for this time of year.
Last month, Governor Gavin Newsom spoke about the urgent action needed to address possible water shortages.
“With the reality of climate change abundantly clear in California, we’re taking urgent action to address acute water supply shortfalls in northern and central California while also building our water resilience to safeguard communities in the decades ahead,” Newsom said on May 10. “We’re working with local officials and other partners to protect public health and safety and the environment, and call on all Californians to help meet this challenge by stepping up their efforts to save water.”
As a historic megadrought, likely produced by La Nina, decimates the western half of the US, the federal government could declare the first-ever water shortage in the coming months, which would prompt cutbacks in water usage for several western states.