Drone photos show dramatic rise in California reservoir levels over three months

Winter storms across California dramatically improved drought conditions and filled reservoirs across the state that held less than a third of their capacity.

Drone photos from the California Department of Water Resources show how much of a difference a recent series of storms, brought on by 11 atmospheric rivers, made.

The image below shows Lake Oroville in Butte County, the second largest reservoir in California. The first image was taken on December 21. The second image was taken on January 12, after several storms began to fill the reservoir. The last image was taken on March 8 and shows a dramatic improvement in water levels.

In the first image, the lake was only at 29% capacity. In the second image, the level had jumped to 51%. And in the third photo, the figure was 75%.

A series of three images framing the same view of a reservoir surrounded by hills, crossed by a bridge.

Lake Oroville’s water level has risen steadily with every storm that has passed through California this winter.

(Ken James; Andrew Innerarity; Florence Low/California Department of Water Resources)

According to the Times drought tracker, Lake Oroville was 80% full on Tuesday. The historical average level for this day – March 14 – was 71% over the past 30 years.

Nearly 100 miles south of Lake Oroville, Lake Folsom was exceptionally dry in November. When the photo below was taken, the lake was at 27% capacity.

An aerial view of a lake with a wide margin of dry land.

An image from November 2022 shows low water conditions around Granite Bay Main Beach at Folsom Lake in Placer County, when reservoir storage was 259,754 acre feet.

(Florence Low/California Department of Water Resources)

On March 10, Folsom Dam was full enough for the Bureau of Reclamation to release water through its auxiliary spillway into the American River to manage water levels.

An aerial view of water flowing down a path from a body of water.

An aerial view of Folsom Dam on March 10.

(Jonathan Wong/California Department of Water Resources)

On Tuesday, Folsom Lake was at 63% capacity, in line with the historic average level.

Winter storms eased drought conditions across the state and prompted officials to lift mandatory water restrictions for millions of Southern California residents.

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