California must start thinking creatively if it wants to survive its third summer of severe drought. According to a press release from the state’s Department of Water Resources (DWR), Lake Shasta—the largest reservoir in the state with a capacity of more than 4.5 million acre feet—remains at a critically low level ahead of expected hot and dry conditions. As of Thursday, the lake’s storage is at 1,818,354 acre feet, while nearby dams like Spring Creek and Trinity remain at diminishing capacity levels as well. Even just last month, Lake Shasta was at its lowest level for the beginning of May in recorded history.
Such alarming conditions don’t appear to be changing, either. “The overall water supply for California is still critical going into the dry summer months,” DWR Director Karla Nemeth explained in a statement. “DWR and its federal partners at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will continue to take a conservative approach to water management decisions to maintain storage, water quality, and water deliveries for millions of Californians. We need to be prepared for a hotter, drier future brought on by our changing climate.”
The agency recently launched a real-time water monitoring tool that tracks precipitation, reservoir levels, and even snowpack, the latter of which is of the utmost concern as California heads into the summer months. As of Friday, the snowpack is at just four-tenths of an inch compared to its historic average of 7.91 inches at this time. The Sierra Sun Times summed it up more soberly: “The Sierra snowpack is essentially gone, and runoff into the state’s streams and reservoirs has largely peaked for the year.”
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That means DWR and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will continue operating their State Water Project and Central Valley Project under a Temporary Urgency Change Order. Enacted in April, the order allows DWR to reduce its release of water through the end of June in order to conserve what remains in three of California’s major reservoirs, including Shasta. The state has also enacted voluntary water conservation plans in hopes that residents will reduce their usage by at least 15%, though some conservation measures vary from area to area as enacted by local governments.
As part of this response, decorative grass and turf has been banned from commercial buildings and industrial parks and near roadways. Officials anticipate that such preventative measures will ensure that California makes it through the drought, albeit with water restrictions, but the drought’s severity doesn’t appear to be lessening and has already impacted major infrastructure. According to the Energy Information Administration, statewide hydropower generation could be cut in half due to a lack of water, forcing California to rely on power from out of state or ramp up generation from fossil fuels, sending emissions rising about 6% higher than in normal conditions.