California’s Lake Oroville peaks for the year at just over half full

Lake Oroville, the largest reservoir in a state system that provides water to 27 million Californians, has already reached its highest level for the year, barely exceeding half its capacity, according to the Department of Water Resources.

Officials had warned that the lake — key to the roughly 700-mile State Water Project that pumps and carries water across the state for agricultural, business and residential uses — was flooded on March 8.

Those levels, data from the Department of Water Resources now show, were the reservoir’s highest for the year.

On May 8, Lake Oroville reached a height of 1.94 million acre-feet. As of Monday, it had dropped to 1.81 million acre-feet, the data shows. The reservoir can hold 3.54 million acre-feet of water, nearly double its current level.

State water officials said the lake was at 51% of its capacity and 66% of its historical average at this point in the year.

Although the reservoir is well below historical levels, it has improved compared to last year, when a drought forced the closure of the hydroelectric power plant that depends on Lake Oroville’s water supply. This year’s peak water level was about 400,000 acre-feet above the highest point in 2021, data from the Department of Water Resources shows.

As of 2021, the lake’s water level north of Sacramento had peaked at 2.5 million acre-feet or more every year since 2015 — about 600,000 acre-feet above that year’s high.

The Department of Water Resources forecasts that Lake Oroville’s water level will continue to drop through the end of the year, but the agency doesn’t expect the hydroelectric plant to shut down.

Despite California’s below-average rainfall this year, the department said, Lake Oroville benefited from “record-breaking atmospheric flow,” or the Pacific rain belts, last October and increased its water supply.

Snowfall in December also helped boost the reservoir, the department said, but the driest January, February and March of this century left Oroville with “below average storage for the season.”

“DWR is taking steps to conserve as much water as possible at Oroville Reservoir,” the agency said, both to ensure salmon migration is not disrupted and to prepare for the possibility of a more severe drought next year. California’s Lake Oroville peaks for the year at just over half full

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