I grew up in the Sacramento Valley in a little farming town with one stop light and more orchards than people. My uncle was in charge of our area water district for a number of years. I don’t remember his title, but I remember his stories about the threats he received when he had to limit a farmer’s water allotment. Water is life in farming as it is, well, in life. Murderous battles have been fought over it and likely will again as climate change continues.
The Oroville Dam is the largest earth filled dam in the world (or at least that was what I was told as a kid). It was built by the California Department of Water Resources and is a key part of the California State Water Project. Construction began in 1961, and was finished in 1968. Water released from Oroville Dam travels down the Feather River before joining with the Sacramento River, and eventually reaching the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and so supplies water for irrigation in the San Joaquin Valley as well as municipal and industrial water supplies to coastal Southern California.
I have fond memories of fishing and swimming in the reservoir and afterbay, and not so fond ones of learning what would happen if the dam were to break during an earthquake. What I remember, however, is not the reservoir in the picture below:
For perspective, here is the Bidwell Marina in Lake Oroville in 2011 and again in 2014
And here’s a comparison of the Lake flowing under the Enterprise Bridge in 2011 and again in 2014.
What’s that cliche about a picture being worth a thousand words?
But let’s look even further north Here’s a recent picture of Lake Shasta
The LA Times cites a study published online by the journal Science that offers a particularly grim picture of drought’s toll: 63 trillion tons of ground water has been lost from March, 2011 through March 2014.
That’s also about how much ice is lost from the Greenland ice cap every year due to climate change.
Of course, without water California’s once fertile Northern and Central valleys can no longer sustain the giant agricultural industry that’s been feeding us for decades. While state officials are ramping up efforts to get Californians to conserve water, the damage has been done. Even if the rains return, the groundwater that’s been lost will not be replenished for many thousand years.