Key Reservoir Flirts with Historic Low

Oroville Reservoir from Hwy 70

Water officials confirmed today that the water level at Oroville Reservoir in Butte County is near the lowest point ever recorded for this date. Today officially begins the water “season” in California, meaning the point at which rainfall could reasonably be expected.

At midnight last, the surface level behind Oroville Dam had dropped to 678 feet, measured from the lowest point in the lake.

That puts the lake at just 31% of capacity. According to state drought coordinator Wendy Martin at the Dept. of Water Resources, the lowest measurement ever recorded on October 1st was 650 feet, in 1977.

Oroville is a major supplier of water for the State Water Project, which provides water for drinking and irrigation as far south as the Los Angeles Basin.

Water customers on the project have already seen their allocations cut back severely. But Martin says that without an extremely wet winter, those allocations could be reduced to a scant 10 or 15% of normal by next year.

Martin says the main message is that even if the season’s first rain arrives this weekend, as forecast, it’s not a signal to start hosing down the driveway again between storms; that conservation will continue to be crucial throughout the winter months.

Key Reservoir Flirts with Historic Low 1 October,2008Craig Miller

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Craig Miller

Craig is KQED's science editor, specializing in weather, climate, water & energy issues, with a little seismology thrown in just to shake things up. Prior to his current position, he launched and led the station's award-winning multimedia project, Climate Watch. Craig is also an accomplished writer/producer of television documentaries, with a focus on natural resource issues.

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