California is no stranger to drought; it is a recurring feature of our climate. Lake Oroville’s low lake levels are a reminder of this cycle of dry and wet years. This year’s drought conditions are being felt across the western United States, with many areas, including California’s Central Valley, identified as being in “extreme drought” - the highest category of drought conditions.
The Department of Water Resources (DWR) has created a “Drought” webpage where definitions, historical trends, current information, and maps of California’s water systems can be found. Links to resources, DWR activities, research, and data are available.
DWR is encouraging water conservation efforts by all Californians. Find out ways you can help by visiting the “Save Our Water” website.
Lake Oroville Boat Ramp Status
Bidwell Canyon Boat Ramp is currently open with future status dependent on lake levels. Boat ramp information can be obtained by calling the CA Department of Parks and Recreation (CA Parks) at (530) 538-2200 or visiting the Lake Oroville State Recreation Area (LOSRA) website at www.parks.ca.gov/LakeOroville. Both the Lime Saddle and Bidwell Canyon marinas will remain open 8 a.m. until sundown.
Visitors to the Thermalito North Forebay will find a full CA Parks facility with restrooms, picnic areas, a swim beach, and the Forebay Aquatic Center with kayaks, paddle boards, and other watercraft available for rent. The Monument Hill facility at the Thermalito Afterbay also provides boat ramp access, restrooms, picnic area, and a swim beach.
More than 97 miles of trails and numerous Day Use Area (DUA) facilities with picnic tables and restrooms at Lake Oroville State Recreation Area (LOSRA) are open 8 a.m. to sunset. Bidwell, Lime Saddle, and Loafer Creek Recreation Areas are open 24 hours. Summer access hours of 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily is now in effect for the Spillway Boat Ramp Area - gates close at 11 p.m. Vehicle access to Oroville Dam Crest Road across Oroville Dam is available 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
Exercise enthusiasts can log a round-trip of just over two miles while they enjoy the spectacular views from Oroville Dam Crest Road across the top of the dam, which is open to walkers, joggers, and bicyclists 24-hours a day. Surrounded by trails, the Thermalito Diversion Pool is open for kayaking and other non-motorized boating, trailered boats are not permitted at this location. The Feather River Fish Hatchery’s viewing area and fish ladder are open to the public. The Lake Oroville Visitor Center remains closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Visit the California Parks LOSRA webpage for current information on facility status, campground reservations, and to find current requirements to protect public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. An interactive map of recreation facilities in DWR’s Oroville-Thermalito Complex is available on DWR’s Lake Oroville Recreation webpage. Information about the 11,000-acre Oroville Wildlife Area is available on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife webpage.
Thermalito Afterbay Outlet Work
Divers have nearly completed work on the first stage of a 3-year project to increase the operational reliability of the Thermalito Afterbay Outlet radial gates. The gates of the Outlet have been closed this past week to allow divers to perform underwater work. The Outlet’s required flows to the Feather River were routed to the river’s Low Flow Channel that runs from the Thermalito Diversion Dam through Oroville.
As work is completed, the gates will be reopened, allowing river flows through the Low Flow Channel to gradually decrease during the week of June 21 as flows from the Thermalito Afterbay Outlet are restored. River users are always advised to be aware of currents and colder water temperatures.
Grazing Goats Reduce Fire Risk
Over 1,500 goats and sheep are busy eating their way through dried grasses and brush in the Kelly Ridge area and along the Dan Beebe and Bidwell Canyon trails. DWR staff overseeing the project report the goats are making great progress in reducing overgrown vegetation in the 34-acre target area.
The goats started grazing June 13 at Arroyo Drive and are moving south towards the Saddle Dam area. DWR in partnership with Butte County Fire Safe Council, contracted with Hanski Family Farms in Paradise to utilize grazing as a sustainable method of fuel reduction to help minimize the risk or lessen the spread of a wildfire.
The goats and sheep will graze on dried grasses, leaves, invasive and non-invasive plants including poison oak and star thistle, and a variety of shrubs and trees. By standing on their hind legs, goats can reduce ladder fuels (overgrown vegetation that allows fire to climb from the forest floor into the taller shrubs and into the tree canopy) up to four feet high. Higher branches are being removed and placed on the ground for further grazing in order to increase fire protection.
The grazing area will be cordoned off with an electric fence and monitored by herdsmen and livestock guardian dogs to protect the animals. The public is urged to stay clear of the electric fence and keep pets away, so the goats are not disturbed.
This work is part of DWR’s Fuel Load Management Plan which helps reduce wildfire risk, increase public safety, and enhance forest health in areas around Lake Oroville within the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) project boundary. To learn more and see goat grazing in action, visit DWR’s YouTube channel for a video of the March 2021 Lakeland Blvd. goat grazing project.
Blue Green Algae Monitoring
DWR environmental scientists regularly monitor for blue-green algae and their toxins during the summer months. There are currently no harmful algal bloom (HAB) advisories for Lake Oroville, the Thermalito Forebay, or the Thermalito Afterbay.
Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) is a natural component of ecosystems. Under certain conditions, including warmer temperatures and increased nutrient loads, algae can grow rapidly causing “blooms.” Keep animals and children away from the water when a suspected harmful algal bloom (HAB) is present and report the possible HAB immediately.
Water samples are taken at various locations regularly from Memorial Day through Labor Day and sent to a lab for toxin analysis. If elevated levels of cyanobacteria toxins are found while testing, DWR staff will work with California’s Regional Water Quality Control Board and recreation area managers to notify the public and post advisory signs at affected waterbodies. To learn more about HABs, or to report a HAB visit the Water Board’s website.
Current Lake Operations
The elevation of Oroville’s reservoir is about 698 feet elevation and storage is about 1.24 million acre-feet -- 35 percent full and 43 percent of historical average. Currently, in the Northern Sierra Basin, snowpack is also below average at five percent of normal. Excess heat warnings are in effect until Saturday night. Temperatures are forecast to be in the 100s over the weekend, in the 90s during the week, then increasing to be above 100 over the following next weekend.
Total flow to the Feather River is currently at 2,750 cfs for meeting downstream water quality and flow requirements. Due to work being performed at the Thermalito Afterbay River Outlet gates, all flow has been rerouted down the low flow channel, through the City of Oroville. Once the work is completed, flows will be rerouted at a rate of 300 cfs per day from the low flow channel to the Thermalito Afterbay Outlet until desired flows are reached. Current releases are re-assessed on a daily basis.
The public can track precipitation, snow, reservoir levels, and more at the California Data Exchange Center at www.cdec.water.ca.gov. Lake Oroville is identified as “ORO”.
All data as of midnight 6/17/2021