Take a look at some of the lakes in California that have been swallowed up by the ‘megadrought,’ hitting record low levels

California drought
  • California has been hit by a “megadrought” that has dried up key reservoirs in the state.
  • Entire lakes have shrunk exponentially, leaving yachts and docks beached on dry land.
  • Nearly 95% of the state is experiencing “severe drought” and is susceptible to wild fires.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

California is experiencing its worst drought in over four years and climate change experts warn it could just be the tip of the (melting) iceberg.

On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that found global temperatures will continue to increase by at least 1.5 degrees Celsius between now and 2040. For every half-degree of warming, the frequency and intensity of heat waves and droughts also increases.

California has already seen a significant impact from climate change, which has pushed temperatures an average of about 2 degrees hotter to date – drying out soil and melting Sierra snow rivers, which causes less water to soak into the ground, as well as flow through rivers and reservoirs.

A man walks through the dried-up bed of a reservoir in Sanyuan county, Shaanxi province July 30, 2014.  REUTERS/Stringer
A man walks through the dried-up bed of a reservoir in Sanyuan Thomson Reuters

Over 37 million people have already been impacted by the “megadrought” and nearly 95% of the state has been classified as experiencing “severe drought,” which has put the land in significant danger of wildfires, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS).

Last year, California land was consumed by over 8,200 wildfires – a number double the state’s previous record. This year, scorching weather has made the state even more susceptible to breakout wildfires than in 2020. Last week, a California town was consumed in only 30 minutes by the Dixie wildfire, which has become the state’s largest wildfire in recorded history.

Dixie fire greenville
Homes and cars destroyed by the Dixie Fire line central Greenville in Plumas County, California. Noah Berger/AP Photo

In June, Jay Lund, co-director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC-Davis told the Associated Press the water levels of California’s over 1,500 reservoirs were 50% lower than they should be at that time of year.

In April, scorching weather turned the San Gabriel Reservoir lake bed to dust. The reservoir is not expected to see rain fall until the end of the year.

The drought turned the San Gabriel reservoir lake bed to dust
The drought turned the San Gabriel reservoir lake bed to dust Getty

In June, the drought dried up a lake so much that it potentially exposed a decades old mystery, allowing officials to find a plane that had crashed in 1965.

A composite image showing Folsom Lake, California, at drought levels in 2017, and a sonar image of a plane underwater there.
Folsom Lake, California, under drought conditions in 2017 (L), and the sonar image of a plane there taken by Seafloor Systems (R) Robert Galbraith/Reuters/CBS13

On Monday, California shut down a major hydroelectric power plant at Lake Oroville for the first time since the plant went into operation in 1967 when the major reservoir hit 25% capacity – its lowest level on record. The decision puts extra strain on the electrical grid during the hottest part of the summer.

In June, about 130 houseboats had to be hauled out of the lake as its water levels hit 38% capacity. Water elevations at Lake Oroville are forecast to reach as low as 620 feet (188.98m) above sea level by the end of October, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

House boats pulled out of Lake Orovill

It’s going to be a rough summer for boat owners in the state.

Pictures from the Associated Press show massive lakes have run dry, leaving boats and docks completely beached

Boats at Fulsom Lake

Experts say the drought could devastate local wildlife populations, as well as California’s tourism industry.

California drought

In April, Governor Gavin Newsom held a press conference in the dried up waterbed of Lake Mendocino. Where he stood there should have been about 40 feet (12.19m) of water.

“This is without precedent,” Newsom said. “Oftentimes we overstate the word historic, but this is indeed an historic moment.”

California drought

The California Department of Water Resources reduced farmers and growers to 5% of their expected water allocation in March. Last week, the State Water Resources Control Board voted to further restrict the amount of water that farmers can draw from rivers and reservoirs – cutting it altogether for some farmers.

When the authorities cut off water supplies, farmers find themselves forced to rely on wells, dug deep into the ground at costs of thousands of dollars. Many farmers say they have been forced to leave their fields mostly barren as even their wells have begun to dry up.

CA drought