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Lake Oroville low with little rain in sight

By Colin Steiner, csteiner@krcrtv.com
Published On: Jan 08 2014 12:54:24 AM CST
Updated On: Jan 08 2014 01:17:57 AM CST
LAKE OROVILLE, Calif. -

While the State of California has yet to officially declare a drought for 2014, water levels at Lake Oroville show just how dry the past year has been.

It's well known, 2013 has been declared the driest year in California recorded history.

Jana Frazier with the Department of Water Resources ran the numbers Tuesday.

"Right now we're at 703 feet in elevation which puts us at about 36 percent capacity," Frazier says. "So we're down about 197 feet."

That's 197 feet below the top of Oroville Dam, about 12 percent lower than last January, which followed another relatively dry year.

In the grand scheme of things, Lake Oroville's current capacity is 57 percent of the historical average.

It's a lot of numbers, but one thing is clear, all signs point to trouble on the horizon.

"We're kind of in the eleventh hour and it's scary," Frazier says. "It doesn't matter how you look at it. It doesn't matter what part of the state you're in. It's very concerning because we're losing, we don't have any water, we have no rainfall coming in. So as far as the eleventh hour, I'd say, yeah, we're in the eleventh hour."

But lake levels such as these aren't unprecedented.

Just take a look Bidwell Canyon Marina, which boasts a paved boat launch and parking area that sit right at the low water's edge. Infrastructure put in place in years past when the water level was equally low, if not lower.

And with water release at the dam nearly as low as possible, for now the water level is actually stable if not slightly rising.

And for fisherman like Chad Martin, who was bringing in his boat after a day dropping lines Tuesday, current conditions are actually luring him towards the lake.

"When it starts to stabilize and rise again the bite can get really good and it just makes the fishing a lot better all the way around," Martin says.

So good news for some, but bad news for much of the state that relies on Lake Oroville for irrigation and drinking water.

It's the head of the state water project after all.

And as for the forecast for sprinkles in the not-too-distant future, Frazier laughs.

"They keep telling us we're going to get rain and it keeps dissipating, it goes away, so I don't know," she says. "A drop in the bucket, not even a drop in the lake. It wouldn't make it that far."

She says it's likely that any light rain fall would be soaked up by the parched earth and never make it into the lake.

And with things looking so dire, Frazier's making the same suggestion she's made for years now--she wants people to start planning ahead and conserving this year, and for years to come.

"That's historic with California," Frazier says. "We always go from big winters and lots of snow pack and a lot of rain, right into drier drought summers."