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Rising Levels Allow California Water Officials to Release Water From Oroville Dam

(Source: Alexis Pentzer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

California has recently found itself the subject of national headlines for environmental reasons, yet again. Instead of the fires that have plagued the Golden State for the last several years, though, this time California has been the recipient of attention for the amount of water that has been dumped on the state by Mother Nature.

California Hit With Massive Amounts of Rain

An atmospheric river system has been lingering over the state of California and its neighbors over the last few weeks, pouring a truly stunning amount of rain onto the state which it has, in general, not been very well prepared for.

Source: Wikimedia Commons/Kelly M. Grow

Atmospheric river systems are storm systems that gather moisture from warmer regions over the ocean and then travel with the water, depositing it in the form of rain or snow in cooler areas. They are truly massive storm systems that can span hundreds of miles, and they are the reason behind a significant amount of rain that falls on the United States every year.

Neighboring States Hit Too

California is the most recent subject of one of these storm systems, though neighboring states like Nevada and Oregon certainly have not escaped unscathed. Various parts of the Golden State have been hammered by truly torrential amounts of rain over the past several weeks, as two different massive storms have hit.

Source: Wikimedia Commons/Julie Vazquez

The first storm, around the end of January, dumped massive amounts of rain on the state. Many counties were under flood warnings, and there were individuals who were braced for the worse, given the amount of rain that hit.

A Second Storm to the State

The second storm, though, just a few weeks ago, hit the state worse, if it was possible. This is because the water came in and hit an area that had already been completely submerged by significant amounts of water, soaking the soil and leading to greater amounts of flooding due to already saturated ground.

Source: Wikimedia Commons/Frank Schulenburg

The second storm saw several counties, including Santa Barbara County, under evacuation warnings, given the severity of the storm and water levels expected. The flooding was significant, and one person was discovered unfortunately deceased in the aftermath, though it hasn’t been determined if this person passed as a result of the storm.

Some Good Things for California

All is not bad regarding California and these storms, though they have been scary for infrastructure. The Golden State has been experiencing years of drought and wildfires that have caused horrific damage to personal property over the last several years, and the rain has been a welcome change.

Source: Flickr/Bob Dass

It has even allowed some of the reserve waters of the state to be replenished. California is a state that relies heavily on groundwater and reservoirs in order to water its farmland, and these storms have allowed for some of these valuable resources to be replenished.

Oroville Benefiting From the Storms

Lake Oroville is one such reservoir that has benefited greatly from the atmospheric storms that have hit the state this last winter. Oroville is a critical water resource for the state of California, and it hit concerningly low levels in 2022 as a result of the prolonged drought that hit the state.

Source: Wikimedia Commons/State of California

Other reservoirs also hit peak lows during that period, which led to both stringent water regulations and discussions of ways to use the resource more sustainably moving forward. However, an incredibly wet winter in the 2022-2023 season helped to replenish some of these water levels.

Two Wet Winters in a Row

The 2023-2024 winter, due to being similarly wet, has seen a great resurgence in the levels of some of these reservoirs. It’s gotten to such a point that the California Department of Water Resources has made the decision to release water from Oroville Dam in anticipation of more water.

Source: Wikimedia Commons/William Croyle

Oroville is a lake that services the northern region of the state, and along with Lake Shasta, provides a good portion of water to the area’s farmland and cities. The fact that state officials feel comfortable releasing water from such a precious resource speaks volumes as to the state of the dam now, compared to where it was merely a few years ago.

Statements Released on X

The DWR, in keeping the public appraised of the situation with the dam, released a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, informing the public of the situation.

Source: Twitter/@CA_DWR

“DWR is continuing water releases from Lake Oroville using the main spillway and hyatt Powerplant. Lake Oroville is at 861 feet elevation and storage is approximately 2.96 million acre-feet, which is 83 percent of its total capacity and 136 percent of the historical average,” the DWR stated.

And the Mainstream Media

The DWR simultaneously released statements with other news organizations as well. To Newsweek, the DWR stated, “Water releases from Lake Oroville were increased in advance of a series of storms and provide flood protection to downstream communities by maintaining storage capacity in the reservoir for additional rain capture.”


The statement concluded, “DWR coordinates releases closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and other water operators, and adjusts releases as needed to account for continuing runoff.”

Raised Reservoir Levels

Releasing the water is a significant move on the part of the DWR. The lake has risen 20 feet since the beginning of the month, and 40 feet since the beginning of the year, a significant increase. It is currently about 40 feet higher than it was at this same time last year.

Source: Wikimedia Commons/Dale Kolke

These raised levels are not the end of the storms for California, either. An updated storm map from the National Weather Service forecasts that more rain and snow are on the way for the state of California, which will prolong the state’s rainy season into early March, at minimum.

The Snowpack is Increasing Too

Even beyond the rain that is hitting the state, the levels of Oroville and other California reservoirs are anticipated to rise throughout the spring. The average snowpack in the state has skyrocketed since January, offering a significant buffer to the state for times of drought.

Source: Wikimedia Commons/Steve Redman (MORA)

Snowmelt is an incredibly important resource for California and other states like it. The Golden state relies on snowpack for as much as 30% of its water supply, and as of last week, the California snowpack was at 86% of its average levels for this time this year.

More Snow and Rain on the Way

This number is low in advance of a storm that is projected to hit the Sierra Nevada mountains this week, bringing up to 8 feet of heavy snow to the region. This storm will help to continue improving snowpack levels, and will help to reduce the fear around water as a resource that has hit the western United States over the last several years.

Source: Wikimedia Commons/Steve Redman (MORA)

These significantly wetter months for the western United States will provide the critical resource of water, but only if the states handle the incoming rain and snow properly. Michael Anderson, a state climatologist with the DWR, is concerned about the critical transition period that is coming up as California moves out of the wettest months of the year.

A Critical Resource and Political Talking Point

In a statement, he said, “Recent storms over the past month helped provide a boost to the snowpack, but overall, we have not caught up from the deficit caused by a dry fall and early winter.”

Source: Flickr/Pacific Southwest Forest

Additionally, western states have found themselves the subject of political attention for their use of water as a resource. The aridification of the western United States due to excessive reliance on natural resources that are not replenishing has resulted in more intense attention from the federal government, as well as pressure for western states including Utah, Nevada, and California to come up with a more sustainable, long-term solution.

Caution from Californians

The state of California will be cautious in the coming weeks and months as the snowpack slowly starts to melt as the weather warms. The management of water as a resource will be crucial during this transition time.

Source: Wikimedia Commons/King of Hearts

It appears that local governments have prepared for this eventuality, though, warning citizens of incoming floods and requesting that they stay home when necessary. Surviving the wet season in a state that has seen precious little rain in the last decade will be an adjustment for many Californians, but it’s a challenge that they are ready and willing to take on.

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James Cross

Written by James Cross

James Cross, an enigmatic writer from the historic city of Boston. James' writing delves into mysteries, true crime, and the unexplained, crafting compelling narratives that keep readers and viewers on the edge of their seats. His viral articles, blog posts, and documentary-style videos explore real-life enigmas and unsolved cases, inviting audiences to join the quest for answers. James' ability to turn real mysteries into shareable content has made him a sensation in the world of storytelling.

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