Press "Enter" to skip to content

Lake Oroville Powerplant Closed

On August 5, California DWR State Water Project operations managers took the Hyatt Powerplant at Lake Oroville offline as the lake dropped to its lowest-ever recorded water level.

The current water level is only 641.39 feet above sea level, approximately 259.61 feet from maximum pool. The lake is holding 860,338 acre-feet of water, 24 percent of capacity and 34% of average.

Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth released the following statement regarding the status of hydropower operations at the Hyatt Powerplant at Lake Oroville:

“DWR State Water Project operations managers have taken the Hyatt Powerplant at Lake Oroville offline due to falling lake levels. This is the first time Hyatt Powerplant has gone offline as a result of low lake levels. However, DWR anticipated this moment, and the state has planned for its loss in both water and grid management. We have been in regular communication about the status of Hyatt Powerplant with the California Independent Service Operator (CAISO) and the California Energy Commission and steps have been taken in anticipation of the loss of power generation.

“This is just one of many unprecedented impacts we are experiencing in California as a result of our climate-induced drought. California and much of the western part of the United States are experiencing the impacts of accelerated climate change including record-low reservoir levels due to dramatically reduced runoff this spring.

”DWR will continue to focus on reservoir operations and water storage management at Lake Oroville to preserve as much water in storage as possible. DWR will use the River Valve Outlet System to release some water from the base of Oroville Dam to maintain river temperature requirements and outflows to the Feather River.

“Falling reservoir levels are another example of why it is so critical that all Californians conserve water. We are calling on everyone to take action now to reduce water use by 15 percent, to preserve as much water supply in storage as possible should we experience another dry year. We are all in this together.” 

For more information about state grid management, please contact CAISO at 

* * *

My Response:

The poor management of reservoirs and massive water exports over the past ten years and in 2021 to date has led to the critical situation at Lake Oroville and other reservoirs that we are seeing this year during this unprecedented drought.

Nemeth calls on Californians to “reduce water use by 15 percent,” when the real problem here is systematic water mismanagement by the state and federal governments over the past 10 years and in 2021, a critically dry year, during a climate change-induced drought.

The draining of state and federal water project reservoirs to supply water to Central Valley corporate agribusiness over the past 10 years has resulted in the situation where the State Water Project’s Oroville Reservoir has declined to its lowest water level in history, threatening salmon and steelhead populations on the Feather River, fish populations on the reservoir and both domestic and agricultural water supplies this year.

Meanwhile many endangered winter run Chinook salmon have already died before spawning below the Bureau of Reclamation’s Keswick Dam, the regulating reservoir for the Central Valley Project’s Shasta Reservoir. The California CDFW also reported that “nearly all” endangered winter-run Chinook salmon juveniles could perish this year in low, warm water conditions.

In 8 out of the past 10 years, the combined water exports from the state and federal water projects have exceeded the 3 million acre feet annual export figure that many believe to be the maximum amount of water that can be exported from the Delta without destroying the ecosystem and harming fish species.

In every water year except two, 2014 and 2015, the state and federal projects exported well over 3 million acre feet of water from the Delta.

The 3 million acre feet cap of water exports in all years is a key recommendation of the Environmental Water Caucus (EWC) updated solutions plan titled “A Sustainable Water Plan for California.” 

In fact, 2011 was the all time record export year with 6.67 million acre feet of water diverted from the Delta, followed closely behind by the 6.46 million acre feet exported in 2017.

2018 saw 4.62 million acre feet exported from the Delta, while 2019 saw 5.3 million acre feet exported and 2020 saw 3.65 million acre feet exported: A coalition of Delta-based groups recently sent a formal Petition for Reconsideration to the State Water Board opposing the Board’s June 1 order to relax water quality standards for Delta operations of the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project.

The coalition’s petition reveals that 4.5 million acre-feet of water will be delivered to state and federal water contractors (including about 10 percent for Central Valley wildlife refuges) in 2021, based on Water Board information. 

“The spring releases of water that should not have happened need to be burned into our collective memory,” according to a tweet from Restore the Delta. “We told state officials of the conditions that would absorb runoff in 2016. If we could figure it out, why couldn’t state water planning experts?”

Due to the projected poor water conditions in the Sacramento and its tributaries this year, all of the juvenile chinook salmon (smolts) from state fish hatcheries received truck rides to saltwater this spring to increase their survival.

Over 16.8 million young fall Chinook salmon from four Central Valley hatcheries — the Feather River, Nimbus, Mokelumne and Merced facilities — were trucked this spring to release sites around San Pablo and San Francisco bays and in Half Moon and Monterey bays by early June, according to the CDFW.

The bottom line: If you don’t conserve enough water to maintain carryover storage to enable successful spawning and outmigration of salmon in a drought, then the CDFW is forced to truck the fish downriver to San Francisco Bay, as it did this spring, so that the fish are able to survive, unlike nearly all of the endangered juvenile winter-run Chinook salmon that are likely to die this year.

If 2021 is another dry year in California, the impact on already over-exploited rivers and reservoirs — and on water supplies for both fish and people — will be unimaginable.

One Comment

  1. Kathy Borst August 15, 2021

    Yes! Delusional mismanagement is a key issue, the delusion being that the water will always be there, that the rains will always come. California has plenty of extended droughts on record. It would be nice if someone in charge would get a grip on reality. Although as soon as they did, they would disappear and be replaced by someone with a more politically popular message or practice.
    And it’s more than likely that we have another dry winter coming up.

Leave a Reply