Lake Oroville: California El Niño Storms Raise Lake Level Almost 20 Feet In 10 Days, Putting Dent In Record Drought

The long drought in California has left behind empty lakes and reservoirs, including Northern California’s normally substantial Lake Oroville. Nestled in the Western Sierra foothills, Lake Oroville is both a recreational paradise and an important California water resource.

In recent years, however, the water levels of Lake Oroville, along with the rest of California’s lakes and reservoirs, have dropped precipitously, making Lake Oroville look more like Oroville crick or mud flats than the majestic lake it can be in non-drought times.

Lake Oroville, Bridge, empty
Lake Oroville, a key California water source, had dwindled to more of a creek than a lake before El Nino storms raised the lake's level amlost 20 feet in 10 days. [Image by /Getty Images]

But enter El Niño, the long talked about body of warm water out in the Pacific that has opened a gateway across the ocean and sent storm after storm rolling into California, packing the California Sierras with a precious new snowpack and reportedly raising Lake Oroville’s water level a dramatic 17 feet in the past 10 days, reports KRCR News.

Lake Oroville full, bridge
Lake Oroville during healthier times, the lake level holding its own beneath the same bridge pictured above.

As last summer’s continued dryness drifted into an equally dry fall, many docks on Lake Oroville found themselves resting in dirt rather than water. Concrete boat launch ramps stretched endlessly down toward what remained of the lake, with moored boats quickly running out of room to float on Lake Oroville.

Dramatic and eerie pictures of Lake Oroville’s plight have featured its distinctive high water mark defined by lake side greenery and towering high above Lake Oroville’s dwindling surface.

But with the strong El Nino driven Pacific rain storms, Lake Oroville’s quickly rising levels are a welcome sight, with other California lakes and reservoirs also reporting significant rises.

Lake Oroville’s 17-foot rise in 10 days was documented by hourly mapping conducted by the Department of Water Resources.

“This is excellent,” said the Department of Water Resources’ Kevin Wright. “This is what we need.”

According to Wright, Lake Oroville hit a frightening low last year, but has since rebounded with 264,000 fresh acre-feet of water pouring into the lake.

But while the rising tide of Lake Oroville is good news, the lake is still low, and according to Wright there’s still a lot more water that would be welcome.

“We are not out of the drought,” said Wright. “We’re just…we’re not. The lake has a long ways to go before it’s full. So, we still need to conserve water.”

By a long way to go, Lake Oroville currently sits around 690 feet full, with a high water mark of 900 feet, leaving over 200 feet of additional water that would be much welcomed.

Which represents a significant number, but with more storms forecast to roll in over the horizon, Lake Orovile could be looking at an additional 25 to 30 feet in the next few weeks.

“The storm we just had…we need several of those over the next few months,” said Wright. “Let’s say between now and the end of March, end of April, we need to see those at least every other week.”

Regardless, the El Niño rains have been a huge gift to California and Lake Oroville from Mother Nature.

Fulsom Lake, south of Lake Oroville and above Sacramento, has also risen dramatically with the recent plentiful rains, even more than Lake Oroville.

SF Gate reports that Fulsom lake raised an astounding, and much needed, 44 feet in just over a month.

Opportunities for irrigation, recreation, and other activities had grown dire at Fulsom Lake, like Lake Oroville, a popular wake boarding and water skiing area.

But while its Lake Oroville neighbor hit a new low in December, Fulsom Lake had become “the hydrological equivalent of a mud puddle,” according to SF Gate.

Along with Lake Oroville, Fulsom Lake was the lowest it has been since 1977, but with continued El Niño storms, California is hoping more snow and more rain will return lakes like Oroville and Fulsom to healthy heights that put a dent in the long and nasty drought.

[Images by Justin Sullivan via Getty Images]