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After two years of below-seasonal rainfall, water levels in reservoirs continue to decrease

Posted at 2:30 PM, Jul 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-15 17:30:01-04

One-hundred percent of the state of California is in a state of drought, which is impacting local reservoirs across the central coast.

A boat cruise or paddle on Lopez Lake, while peaceful on a summer morning, is actually a reminder of the reservoir's low water levels.

"So when the lake level is full, roughly just below the chaparral line, you can see the color change or roughly 45 vertical feet down," according to Lopez Lake Supervising Park Ranger Matt Mohl.

National Weather Service Senior Service Hydrologist Jayme Laber says between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties, the current water year only brought 25 to 40 percent of average rainfall.

"We didn't get enough rain to generate any runoff to recharge our reservoirs," Laber said.

The lack of rain over the past two years has contributed to drought conditions across the state. The U.S. Drought Monitor uses several resources and statistics to update and release drought maps every week.

"Precipitation data over multiple time scale usually about one month going back and sometimes as much as two years, vegetative health as it relates to drought." Curtis Riganti, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Centerr, said.

"If we're not getting rainfall, we're not getting our groundwater recharged so groundwater levels continue to drop," Laber said. "So overall, just that lack of precipitation has had an impact on groundwater and surface water."

The below-average rainfall year has impacted local reservoirs like Lopez Lake which is currently sitting just about 35-percent capacity.

"We'd like to see it up in the 60s, 70s, and 80s," Mohl said.

The amount of water in a reservoir is dependent on several factors, including evaporation, agriculture, and environmental release, which is why lake capacities across the central coast vary.

Reservoir Levels 0714 (1).png

An official with San Luis Obispo County Public Works says the lake levels at Lopez Lake never fully recovered after the last drought in 2016.

"The last time we closed in 2016, we closed at 27%," Mohl said.

As the summer continues, so will the drought, which could impact recreation on Lopez Lake and potentially close the boat launch.

"We're hoping we make it into August," Mohl said. "At this point, we are going to at least be in August that we'll have to close, but after that, we're not exactly sure how long we can be open for."

Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom visited Lopez Lake to sign an emergency drought proclamation. During his visit, Newsom asked Californians to reduce their water intake by 15 percent. Just this week, a local drought emergency was also declared for San Luis Obispo County.

For the latest information on the drought and how it's impacting our southwestern states, click here.