As is expected of any headline concerning climate change, news of the prolonged drought currently happening in California is becoming more and more worrisome. The most recent indication of the gravity of the situation comes from its two largest reservoirs, Lake Oroville and Lake Shasta.
The two reservoirs are at dangerously low levels, according to officials. Unfortunately for residents of the Golden State - like millions of others who live in the US west - that means they're only at the beginning of a scorching, dry summer. Experts have recently confirmed that Lake Oroville, the second-largest reservoir in the state, measured at only 55% of its total capacity. California's largest reservoir, Shasta Lake, on the other hand, was just 40% of its total capacity last month, marking the driest start to a summer season since the late 19th century.
For the state, which is currently experiencing its most severe drought in 1,200 years, these signs are appalling. In early June 2022, the state set water restrictions for nearly 6 million of its residents in Southern California. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California announced that residents and businesses must either limit their outdoor watering to one or two days a week or set a volume of water than can't be exceeded. "People need to take these restrictions seriously," said MWD General Manager Adel Hagekhalil. "So we must do everything we can to lower our use and stretch this limited supply. If residents and businesses don't respond immediately, we'll have to take even stronger action."
It was just five years ago, in February 2017, that Oroville overflowed as millions of gallons of water eroded its dam, forcing nearly 200,000 citizens to evacuate the area. Today, what was once a large body of glittering turquoise water has now dried up to expose the muddy, brown earth underneath. Alongside the Shasta reservoir, Oroville is one of the two largest dams in the state. Not only that, but it's also a critical part of the State Water Project (SWP) system, which can provide water to up to 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland. Earlier this year, officials at the SWP announced the system would only be able to supply up to 5% of its contractors' demands. The megadrought is one sign that "we're already seeing the effects of climate change in California," according to Cooley Heather Cooley, research director at the non-profit Pacific Institute. "And we know that those effects are only going to get worse."