May 30, 2024
Lake Oroville boat launches and recreation parks remain open and the water is still accessible by the public.

OROVILLE — Lake Oroville is down 40 feet from the start of the summer when the water level was at capacity thanks to a string of heavy winter storms.

The storms also boosted the snowpack, allowing for consistent and often substantial runoff into the lake. Earlier this year, the California Department of Water Resources, which oversees the lake as well as the Oroville Dam, began releasing water from the reservoir’s main spillway in an effort to keep up with the inflows.

The view of Lake Oroville from the top of the Oroville Dam in Butte County, California on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023. The 40-foot difference makes for a dramatic shift from what it was in May and June. (Jake Hutchison/Enterprise-Record) 

Because of this, the lake nearly reached its 900-foot capacity for the first time in years and for months following the storms. However, the slowing of the melt-off and the summer dryness have conspired to once again cut the water level. As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the lake sits at an elevation of 856.95 feet.

DWR Spokesperson Raquel Borayo said the peak snowpack runoff occurred in late April, at which point the daily inflow average was roughly 27,000 cubic feet per second. This week inflows were recorded at between 2,000 and 3,000 cubic feet per second.

While winter is still in the distance, Borrayo said DWR is prepping for the possibility of another wet winter.

“Starting in the fall, DWR’s Water Operations division will begin to adjust reservoir lake levels in accordance with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Control Manual,” Borrayo said. “This is done each year in preparation for the winter season regardless of long-range forecasts to provide flood control protection to downstream communities and retain additional space in the lake for increased runoff from fall and winter storms. Additionally, DWR’s Water Operations division also monitors forecasts closely to predict incoming storm impacts and determine whether to release additional water to account for higher estimated inflows.”

The Nelson Bar boat launch runs much further into Lake Oroville on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023 outside of Paradise, California. (Jake Hutchison/Enterprise-Record) 

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Borrayo said it’s still too early to know for sure what the coming winter will bring.

“Climate predications are leaning more strongly towards an El Niño event this upcoming winter, but it is still too early to tell what that may mean for precipitation this winter,” Borrayo said. “DWR is watching climate developments closely to prepare the state for either wet or dry conditions.”

While the current summer heat has been broken up somewhat with mild storms, the rainfall hasn’t been enough to make a dent in the quickly lowering water level. The current outflow from the reservoir is roughly 7,400 cfs, Borrayo said.

Despite the changing conditions, the lake is still considerably fuller than in previous years. On this day in 2022, the lake was only at 708.79 feet which was preceded by 631 feet in 2021.

Lake Oroville boat launches and recreation parks remain open and the water is still accessible by the public.