Photos show the ‘bathtub ring’ along a parched Los Angeles reservoir as California’s drought grows more dire

An aerial view of reservoir tucked in between a mountainous landscape under a bright sky.
The reservoir nestled in the San Gabriel Mountains. Ted Soqui for Insider
  • Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency in 41 California counties.
  • Reservoirs across the state are running dry.
  • Ted Soqui captured the dramatic “bathtub ring” at the San Gabriel Reservoir outside Los Angeles.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The 5km-long San Gabriel Reservoir, nestled in the mountains above Los Angeles, is running dry.

California had significantly less rain and snow this year, and drought conditions this summer have left much of the state increasingly parched.

Across California, many reservoirs and lakes are experiencing a “bathtub-ring” phenomenon: Declining water levels expose white rings around the edges of these bodies of water – the result of calcium carbonate and other minerals attached to the rock. The more rings that are visible, the lower the water level.

Photographs of the San Gabriel Reservoir offer a hint at how severe the drought could get in Southern California.

Rings are seen along rocks above a reservoir, showing where the water line once was.
The ‘bathtub ring’ around the San Gabriel Reservoir. Ted Soqui for Insider

A close-up of the rings that form along the rocks, showing where the water line once was.
Detail of the newly exposed ‘bathtub ring’ on the side of the San Gabriel Reservoir as it dries out. Ted Soqui for Insider

In May, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California expanded the state’s drought-emergency declaration to cover 41 counties, which represent 30% of the state’s population. The governor’s office attributed the situation to especially hot temperatures brought on by the climate crisis, as well as extremely dry mountaintop soil that absorbs water that would otherwise flow into the state’s water-collection systems.

“Extraordinarily warm temperatures in April and early May separate this critically dry year from all others on California record,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

The giant reservoirs in Northern California – Folsom Lake, Lake Oroville, and Shasta Lake – are also seeing low water levels after less snow and rain runoff came down from the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

A bald eagle is seen resting on a leaf-less tree amid a parched landscape.
A bald eagle near the reservoir. Ted Soqui for Insider
An aerial view shows the bottom of the reservoir.
The bottom of the reservoir becomes exposed as it dries out. Ted Soqui for Insider

Most of Los Angeles’ water is pumped over the Tejon Pass from Northern California. The water from the San Gabriel Reservoir, which holds more than 54 million cubic meters of water when full, mostly serves the San Gabriel Valley.

Significant rain and snow fall is not expected until November.

An aerial view of the reservoir shows a swirl of patterns.
Rorschach-like patterns now appear on the newly exposed bottom of the San Gabriel Reservoir. Ted Soqui for Insider
A wide aerial view of the reservoir dam area.
The southern area of the reservoir’s dam area. The reservoir is now almost empty with a sliver if water running through it. Ted Soqui for Insider
The barren, dry landscape is seen around the reservoir.
The terrain around the San Gabriel Reservoir is now fully exposed. Ted Soqui for Insider

Ted Soqui is a photojournalist in LA. See more of his work here.