Oroville (United States) (AFP)
Summer hasn’t even started and Lake Oroville, California’s second-largest reservoir that provides drinking water to more than 25 million people, is at less than half of its average capacity at this time of year. the year.
It’s a worrying indication of worsening drought conditions in the northern part of the Golden State.
“When we enter a year like this with a low reservoir and very dry conditions statewide, it is concerning,” John Yarbrough, deputy deputy director of the Department of Water Resources told AFP. from California.
“The reservoir is much lower than we would like to see, much lower than usual at this time of year. That’s about 47% of the average, ”he said, pointing to the cracked earth forming the wall of the lake.
As of May 10, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of drought-related emergency in more than 40 counties. Conditions in Butte County, where Lake Oroville is located, are already considered “extreme”, the highest level.
And the situation – exacerbated by the effects of climate change in the western United States – is not expected to improve until the rains return in five or six months.
Yarbrough said that in 2019, which he called a ‘happy new year’, the water level reached the trees at the edge of the dam, meaning it was around 50 meters (165 feet) over high than usual.
Residents in the region told AFP that they had never experienced drought conditions like this before.
Many of them recalled that in 2017, they had to evacuate because torrential rains had prompted the authorities to fear that the dam would break under the pressure. Not even five years later, the situation has radically changed.
– Evaporated snow –
Lake Oroville, built in the 1960s at the confluence of three rivers, is a key component of California’s State Water Project, a vast network of reservoirs, aqueducts, and pipelines bringing water from the northern part of the state. to the south, which has a larger population and a much drier climate.
# photo1 “This lake right here provides drinking water to 27 million Californians,” Yarbrough said, adding that it also irrigates “up to 750,000 acres” (303,000 hectares) of farmland.
On average, northern California receives two-thirds of the state’s total precipitation, but this year has been particularly bad.
On April 1, which traditionally marks the end of snowfall in the state, snow reserves in the Sierra Nevada Mountains – the source of about a third of the water used in California – were only about 60 % of the mean.
“One thing that is unique this year is that when that snow melted, the runoff ended up seeping into the dry soils and evaporating,” meaning very little runoff ended up in Lake Oroville, Yarbrough explained.
The waters contained by the Oroville Dam, the highest in the United States at 770 feet (235 meters), will not dry up as quickly, but by the end of the so-called dry season the lake should be at its most. low level recorded. since September 1977.
– Fears of forest fires –
After two years with very little rainfall and no guarantee that the seasons to come will be better, water restrictions are the next step.
# photo2 The California Department of Water Resources, which manages the State Water Project, has warned it may not be able to provide more than five percent of requested supplies this year.
The owners of dozens of boats moored on Lake Oroville have been forced this week to put the ships in dry dock, failing to see them run aground and be damaged.
Another serious consequence of the drought is the increased risk of forest fires, which is of particular concern to the authorities in a region which has been repeatedly devastated in recent years by massive forest fires.
The charred trees that dot the landscape around Lake Oroville are a stark reminder: last year, more than 6,500 square miles (17,000 square kilometers) caught fire in California alone, and 33 people were killed, including 15 in Berry Creek, not far from Oroville.
This year, fires have already consumed five times more vegetation than during the same period in 2020.
“I think we are in a long term drought trend. And it’s been going on for about six years, ”said Butte County Fire Chief John Messina.
“We’ve had a few wet years in between those years, but overall we’re a lot drier than we’re used to,” he said.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you don’t have precipitation, your fuels don’t stay wet – and the drier the fuels, the greater the risk of catastrophic forest fires, or even more. less than an extremely busy summer in California. “
© 2021 AFP