John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
It’s pretty bleak below.
For folks who haven’t seen the physical impact of California’s relentless drought—bam!, this footage should hit you like a sack of arid dirt.
As of last week, 71 percent of the state was locked in two of the most severe forms of drought. (Nearly 100 percent was in some kind of drought.) Now, the California Department of Water Resources has released a flyover of three important reservoirs, showing the debilitating effects the broiling climate and water policies have had on water levels. “On July 20, 2015 Folsom Lake measured at 34% of capacity,” the department writes on Facebook, “Lake Oroville at 35% and Lake Shasta at 45%.”
There’s a sign of hope on the horizon: the development of a powerful El Niño that could deliver life-giving storms to the region. But water managers aren’t celebrating yet. “Scientists say there’s a 90-percent chance of a strong one forming in the Pacific this winter, but will rain fill Northern California reservoirs?” asks the Department of Water Resources. “State Climatologist Mike Anderson says this drama’s ending is still unwritten: ‘Unfortunately, even a strong El Niño doesn’t correlate to a particular outcome for California.’”
That means the state could suffer a fifth consecutive year of drought in 2016, with scenes like these becoming ever-more common:
Compare that to the situation in 2011, and you’ll see why people are concerned: