It’s no surprise, really: Water levels in California’s reservoirs continue to drop as the thirsty state waits for the first sign of fall rains. Still, it’s startling to see the evidence of how far the reservoirs have fallen. Last week, Getty Images photographer Justin Sullivan took an aerial tour of some of the reservoirs, including Lake Oroville. That’s the biggest reservoir in the State Water Project and the second-largest in the state after Lake Shasta.

Take a look at some before and after views of the lake, below, comparing it in July 2011, after a wet winter and copious spring runoff, with the way it looks now.

Just to be clear, the water hasn’t been dropping continuously during the past three drier-than-normal years. For instance, as recently as April 2013, Lake Oroville was roughly 90 percent full. In late May 2013, Folsom Lake, pictured last in this series of images, was about 75 percent full. Both reservoirs fell to low levels during the dry, dry fall of 2013, then recovered a little during late-season rains. And then — much lower than normal in the spring after a season with scarce mountain snow and very little runoff — the plunge to today’s levels began.

Click the arrows on each image below to see the difference.

In 2011, water levels were high near the Enterprise Bridge over Lake Oroville. Now the lake is at 32 percent of capacity.

There’s less room for boats at Bidwell Marina on Lake Oroville.

These views are of the Oroville Dam.

Folsom Lake is currently at 40 percent of its total capacity of 977,000 acre feet.

  • DesertFlower78

    Yikes!!!! Those images REALLY bring the drought frm jst a concept to a real measurable crisis.. These pics should get plastered on billboards all over the state.


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at

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