OROVILLE (KPIX) — For the first time ever, water levels at Lake Oroville are so low due to drought and heat, its power plant had to be shut down.
At the Oroville Dam, California’s drought and the state’s energy struggles come together in one single place. The power plant that is buried in the dam is now offline as the lake becomes a bellwether once again.READ MORE: San Jose Fire, PG&E Crews Respond to Gas Leak on Zanker Road
“So today, we have a patio boat on the lake and we’re removing it for fear we might not get it off the lake at the end of the summer,” explained boat owner Rob Rodney. “First time ever. Time to get out.”
First, the water pulled away from the ramps and made boating nearly impossible. And now time has run out for the lake’s power plant. The intake structure, designed to pull water at different temperatures in a full lake, has simply run out of depth to pull any water at all.
“It’s a bad event,” says Peter Gleick of the The Pacific Institute. “It’s the first time since that dam was built in 1965 or so that we’ve had to shut down that power plant.”
For starters, it’s another drought-delivered hit to the state’s ability to produce hydro power, and that’s one of the reasons California has faced multiple flex alerts this year.
It’s also another remarkable moment for the lake in recent memory. Governor Ronald Reagan dedicated Oroville Dam over a half century ago, but in just the past few years this structure has been pushed to both limits. 2017, the year that followed our last drought, brought record amounts of rainfall and hours of terror when it appeared the dam might fail altogether. Now, just four years later, the water level at the dam has dropped to at a record low.READ MORE: Neighbors Drop Lawsuit Alleging 'Harmful' Nuisances At Napa County Compost Facility
“And that is an indication, it’s evidence, of human-caused climate change,” Gleick says. “The climate is changing, we know that humans are responsible. We’re seeing it now in our hydrology in California, and of course elsewhere.”
So as people stood and gawked through fire smoke at the empty lake below, it was hard not to think of this day as another step deeper into this slow motion disaster.
“The real fear is what next year brings,” says Richard Walburn of Oroville. “What happens next year? Hopefully something turns around, I’d hate to think about two or three more years of this.”
“I hope next year is wet,” Gleick says. “We have drawn down our reservoirs far faster than we should have. Next year is dry, the pain is going to be much greater than even this year.”MORE NEWS: San Jose State University To Pay Student-Athletes $1.6M For Ignoring Sexual Assault, Harassment Claims
To replace the lost power, more will have to be generated somewhere else in California, or purchased from out of state.