Summer has not even begun and Lake Oroville, the second-largest reservoir in California that provides drinking water to more than 25 million people, is at less than half of its average capacity at this time of year.
It is a worrying indication of the worsening drought conditions in the northern part of the Golden State.
“When we go into a year like this with the reservoir low and with really dry conditions throughout the state, that is concerning,” John Yarbrough, the assistant deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources, told AFP.
“The reservoir is much lower than we would like to see it, much lower than typical at this time of year. It’s about 47 per cent of average,” he said, pointing to the cracked earth forming the lake wall.
Since May 10, California Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency linked to drought in more than 40 counties. Conditions in Butte County, where Lake Oroville is located, are already seen as “extreme,” the highest level.
And the situation, exacerbated by the effects of climate change across the western United States, is not expected to improve before the rains return in five or six months.
Yarbrough said that in 2019, which he called a ‘good year’, the water level reached the trees on the edge of the dam, meaning it was about 50 meters (165 feet) higher than usual.
Residents of the area told AFP, they had never seen dry conditions like this before.
Many of them recalled how in 2017, they had to evacuate because torrential rains had prompted authorities to fear that the dam would break under the pressure. Not even five years later, the situation has shifted dramatically.