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Winter Storms Restore Boating’s Future to California

Once a stark example of the drastic effects of California’s yearslong megadrought, Lake Oroville has rebounded and is once again filled to capacity, data from the state’s Department of Water Resources shows. The lake is located about 75 miles north of Sacramento, an area that serves as a recreational playground for campers and boaters alike.

California’s drought-stricken reservoirs have seen a remarkable recovery in recent months after a barrage of storms. It’s a much-needed improvement after they had been hovering at critically low levels for the past several years, officials said.

Along with putting a chokehold on boating recreation, the extremely low water levels turned the lake into something of an eyesore, deterring campers from setting up sights along its bleak shoreline. Restoration of water supply from the winter storms projects a brighter future for RV and boat sales, and, ultimately, for the RV and boat storage industry as well. Although recreational storage is far from reaching a saturation point in most areas across the country, the outlook in California validates an even greater need for vehicle storage facilities in the future.

Lake Oroville, the state’s most beleaguered and second-largest reservoir, is at 100% of its total capacity and 127% of where it should be around this time of year – a huge boost after the climate-change-fueled megadrought sucked away nearly all its water supply.

A series of heavy winter storms and the following runoff from snowmelt have added 2.5 million acre-feet of water to the lake, raising levels by more than 240 feet since December 1, the state water agency said in a community update.

“Conditions have changed dramatically in many parts of the state thanks to the series of storms that arrived in California starting in December and continuing throughout the remainder of our wet season,” Tracy Pettit-Polhemus, a manager for the State Water Project, told CNN. “This is the first time the reservoir has reached capacity since 2019.”

Note: The photo directly above was taken during shrinking water levels two years ago. The photo at the top of this story displays an abundance of water in the lake today. 

Between Sacramento and Redding, Lake Oroville plunged to just 24% of total capacity in 2021. The water level was so low that in August 2021 a major hydroelectric power plant was forced to shut down for the first time since it opened in 1967. In May 2021, dozens of houseboats had to be hauled out of the lake due to the devastatingly low water levels.

Oroville’s water level sat well below boat ramps and exposed intake pipes, which are used to send water to power the Edward Hyatt Power Plant. Shutting down the plant served as a wake-up call on how significant the drought had become.

The California Department of Water Resources operates the State Water Project system, which includes Lake Oroville, and provides water to 29 public water agencies serving 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland.

Strategic releases are being employed to ensure there’s room for further snowmelt runoff and most boat ramps have been reopened, welcoming fishermen and campers to enjoy the recreation area. 

Pettit-Polhemus said the agency will continue to “optimize operations for water storage and environmental protection while allowing for carryover storage into next year.”

Lake Oroville is just one piece of the puzzle in the larger Western water crisis. Shasta Lake, the largest reservoir in the state and cornerstone of California’s Central Valley Project, is now at 97% of its total capacity, and 119% of its historical average.

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