There is a rare opportunity to view a historic town that’s been
underwater since the 1950s. At the Folsom Lake State Recreation
Area, visitors are now able to see artifacts from the town that
used to be a mining destination. The rock walls and parts of
the buildings are usually under 60 feet of water, but low water
levels are making the ruins visible.
After the two driest consecutive years in much of California in
nearly half a century, reservoir levels are dropping. Lawns are
brown. Water restrictions are increasing. And Californians are
getting worried. Asked to name the environmental issue they are
most concerned about, more California residents cited water
shortages and drought than any other, according to a new poll
released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of
California, a non-partisan research organization in San
In another vivid example of California’s ongoing drought and
water crisis, the water level is so low at Folsom Lake that
Gold rush era relics that typically are submerged are now
visible on dry land. … For more than a century before
the Folsom Dam was built, the current lake floor in Northern
California was used for gold mining and farming. Settlements
were destroyed when the reservoir was filled in the mid-1950s,
but some old foundations and artifacts remain on the lakebed.
As the West descends deeper into drought, climate and water
experts are growing increasingly alarmed by California’s
shriveling reservoirs. Photos of Lake Oroville, Folsom Lake,
Trinity Lake and Lake Shasta, taken by Times photographer Brian
van der Brug using a drone, unveil the harsh reality of the
Golden State’s not-so-golden drought. On Wednesday, Lake Shasta
— the largest reservoir in the state — held a scant 1.55
million acre-feet of water, according to the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation, or about 34% of its capacity.
On the surface, the city of Folsom would seem to be water rich.
Perched at the foot of Folsom Lake, where snowmelt funnels into
the Sacramento Valley, the city taps into large intake pipes
plumbed deep into Folsom Dam’s inner face to send cool water to
nearby homes and businesses. That easy access is turning
into a mirage. After two dry winters, the reservoir has
shriveled to its second-lowest level for July in nearly 50
years. It’s lower than it was in July 2014 and July 2015, when
the last drought was raging, California ordered mandatory water
cutbacks, and Folsom residents had to swallow a 32% reduction
As the waters of Folsom Lake recede to levels rarely seen, the
remnants of a long-ago abandoned, flooded Gold Rush village are
reemerging. Visitors can now see building foundations, bricks,
broken pottery and rusty nails that were all once part of
Mormon Island. The town was settled in the late 1840s by
prospectors. By 1853, it had a population of more than
2,500 settlers, according to California archives. What was left
of the town got flooded in 1955 when Folsom Dam was built.
An El Dorado County company says it’s made a surprising
discovery at the bottom of Folsom Lake: an airplane. Company
Seafloor Systems was testing its underwater survey equipment
when it spotted what appeared to be a small aircraft 160 feet
underwater. … The plane crashed into the water
behind Folsom Dam after a mid-air collision on New Year’s Day
in 1965. The bodies of three people who were onboard the
aircraft were never recovered.
For anyone trying to keep up with the unfolding drought in
California and the West, the Water Education Foundation has
created a special
resource page that offers links to real-time
reservoir data and water supply forecasts, an ongoing
newsfeed to help you stay up to date on the latest news
and tips so you can help conserve the region’s most
precious natural resource.
The lack of Sierra snowmelt has significantly reduced the size
of Folsom Lake. It’s 68 feet lower that it was last year, the
equivalent of a five-story building. Only one of the
lake’s 13 boat ramps was open over Memorial Day
Weekend. … Besides the lack of snowfall, the ground
has become so dry that, as the snowpack melts, it’s absorbed
into the ground instead of going in the reservoir.
California’s water supply got cut again Wednesday, with the
federal government reducing allocations to cities and farms as
the drought intensified. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
announced that municipal water agencies that rely on the
Central Valley Project will have this year’s allocations
slashed from 55% down to 25% — a level not seen since the
drought of 2015. That could put additional pressure on the
municipalities around greater Sacramento that depend on
supplies from Folsom Lake, whose water levels have sunk
dramatically this spring. The reservoir is at 46% of its usual
capacity for late May.
California — already in the clutches of another drought
emergency — is looking over its shoulder at what happened
last time, anticipating the worst and evaluating the strategies
that worked and those that failed. So is California in a
better position to weather this drought? Some things are
worse, some better: Groundwater is still being pumped with no
statewide limits, siphoning up drinking water that rural
communities rely on. In northern counties, residents are
reliving the last disaster as water restrictions kick in again,
but in the south, enough water is stored to avoid them for now.
… The upshot is California isn’t ready — again.
Less than a week after Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought
emergency for Northern California, Folsom Lake is standing at
one of its lowest levels ever. … Ryan Ojakian is
with the Regional Water Authority (RWA). Now, there’s a push
from the RWA for its 20 water providers that serve about 2
million people in the Sacramento region to shift to using more
groundwater than surface water to reduce reliance on Folsom
Lake and the Lower American River.
Sacramento-area residents were urged Thursday to cut water
usage by 10% as much of the state has been plunged into another
severe drought. Just three days after Gov. Gavin Newsom
declared the area officially in a drought, the Sacramento
Regional Water Authority asked for voluntary conservation
measures as its member agencies scramble to cope with drought
conditions that seemingly worsen by the day.
During a typical spring, the silver young salmon swimming in
long tanks at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery east of Sacramento would
be released into the American River and then make their way out
to the Pacific Ocean to grow to adulthood. But with extreme
drought now gripping California and much of West Coast, the
rivers are too warm for the salmon to survive. This week, the
3.5-inch (90-mm) smolt, as the young fish are known, embarked
on a much different journey when they were loaded on to trucks
and driven to the San Francisco Bay for release into cooler
Don’t be fooled. Governor Gavin Newsom’s decision Monday to
declare drought in most of California, including here, is no
reason for most farmers in Stanislaus County to break out the
party hats. They know full well that words on a declaration
will not generate an extra drop of water for their orchards and
row crops. They also know that a drought declaration could take
some power over the water we do have from our locally elected
irrigation leaders — who represent institutions guiding us
through periodic droughts for more than 100 years — and hand it
to nonelected Sacramento bureaucrats.
A spectacular super bloom of lupine flowers has exploded in and
around Folsom Lake. Lupine flowers, which are native to
California and commonly found around the state, tend to crop up
every year. But this spring, experts say the super bloom that’s
sprouted in the Sierra foothills reservoir 25 miles east of
Sacramento is like nothing they’ve ever seen — and says a lot
about the dire state of California’s deepening drought.
…[B]right purple lupines that now blanket the reservoir in
areas that normally would be underwater but are now fertile
blooming ground because of historically low water levels.
California is at the edge of another protracted drought, just a
few years after one of the worst dry spells in state history
left poor and rural communities without well water, triggered
major water restrictions in cities, forced farmers to idle
their fields, killed millions of trees, and fueled devastating
megafires. … Just four years since the state’s last
drought emergency, experts and advocates say the state isn’t
ready to cope with what could be months and possibly years of
drought to come.
Rain is scarce in much of California, and most of California’s
people live in water-starved regions. And yet the state is, by
some measures, the fifth largest economy in the world. How?
Because during the last century, California has built a complex
network of dams, pumps and canals to transport water from where
it falls naturally to where people live. But climate change
threatens to upend the delicate system that keeps farm fields
green and household taps flowing. In this episode of the UCI
Podcast, Nicola Ulibarri, an assistant professor of urban
planning and public policy who is an expert on water resource
management, discusses how droughts and floods have shaped
California’s approach to water…
San Francisco Bay’s life support systems are unravelling
quickly, and a wealth of science indicates that unsustainable
water diversions are driving this estuary’s demise. Yet,
with another drought looming, federal and state water managers
still plan to divert large amounts of water to their
contractors and drain upstream reservoirs this summer.
Meanwhile, the state’s most powerful water districts are
preparing yet another proposal to maintain excessive water
diversions for the long-term. By delaying reforms that the
law requires and that science indicates are necessary, Gov.
Gavin Newsom encourages wasteful water practices that
jeopardize the Bay and make the state’s water future
precarious. -Written by Jon Rosenfield, a senior scientist for SF
Updated water supply allocations announced last week would
still drain upstream reservoirs in order to deliver 4.5 million
acre feet of water to the contractors of the federal Central
Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP), devastating
fish and wildlife. This week, the fisheries biologists at the
National Marine Fisheries Service projected that these planned
operations are likely to result in lethal water temperatures
that will kill 89% of endangered winter-run Chinook salmon
below Shasta Dam this year. This mortality estimate is even
worse than what was observed in 2014 and 2015, when salmon
populations were devastated by warm water in their spawning
State and federal water officials have delivered their most
dire warning yet of California’s deepening drought, announcing
that water supply shortages are imminent and calling for quick
conservation. Among a handful of drastic actions this week, the
powerful State Water Board on Monday began sending notices to
California’s 40,000 water users, from small farms to big cities
like San Francisco, telling them to brace for cuts. It’s a
preliminary step before the possibility of ordering their water
draws to stop entirely.
We’re facing another very dry year, which follows one of the
driest on record for Northern California and one of the hottest
on record statewide. The 2012-16 drought caused
unprecedented stress to California’s ecosystems and pushed many
native species to the brink of extinction, disrupting water
management throughout the state. Are we ready to manage
our freshwater ecosystems through another drought? -Written by Jeffrey Mount, senior fellow,
and Caitrin Chappelle, associate director, at
the Public Policy Institute of California Water Policy
As March begins to drag on with little precipitation in the
forecast and few weeks left in California’s traditional wet
season, we are in another dry year. This is California’s second
dry year in a row since the 2012-2016 drought.
Statistically, California has the most drought and flood years
per average year than anywhere in the US. This
statistical fact seems to becoming increasingly extreme, as
predicted by many climate change models.
Although the 1971 San Fernando earthquake and the near failure
of the Lower Van Norman Dam have given rise to construction
improvements … the overwhelming majority of California dams
are decades past their design life span. And while earthquakes
still loom as the greatest threat to California’s massive
collection of dams, experts warn that these aging structures
will be challenged further by a new and emerging hazard:
“whiplashing shifts” in extreme weather due to climate change.
Scientists expect flooding to get worse because weather
extremes are growing as the climate crisis worsens globally,
said UCLA Climate Scientist Daniel Swain. … Waiting to
systematically address flooding issues, like California’s done
with wildfire, could mean breaching of levees, Central Valley
wide flooding and even flooding in areas like Los Angeles as
the climate crisis worsens, said Swain.
The water level at Folsom Lake is dropping by nearly half a
foot each day, and soon boaters who rent a slip at Folsom Lake
Marina will have pull their boats out. Marina managers told the
tenants they should plan on removing their boats from the water
by around Aug. 16…
It’s the early 1990s, and Park Williams stands in the middle of
Folsom Lake, at the base of the Sierra Nevada foothills in
Northern California. He’s not walking on water; severe drought
has exposed the lakebed. “I remember being very impressed by
the incredible variability of water in the West and how it’s
very rare that we actually have just enough water,” said
Williams, who went on to become a climate scientist at Columbia
The intake, a pump house at the edge of the lake in El Dorado
Hills, was built in 1958, and got additional pumps installed in
1994. Both systems are at the end of their useful life and have
become unreliable in recent years. The intake … plays a
critical role in supplying drinking water to El Dorado Hills.
Amidst much anguish and gnashing of teeth, the El Dorado
Irrigation District Board of Directors unanimously approved a
$42.7 million dollar project on Monday that’s been on EID’s to
do list since 2011. Called the Folsom Lake Intake Improvement
Project, EID plans to replace the existing pump station that
has been in service since the late 1950s and considered to be
at the end of its useful life.
The Folsom Lake Intake Improvement Project delivers district
water supplies available at Folsom Lake to the El Dorado Hills
Water Treatment Plant and is critical to service reliability
for the El Dorado Hills service area. In service since the late
1950s, significant portions of the pump station have reached
the end of their useful life.
Partnering with the state of California and the Sacramento Area
Flood Control Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing
a $383 million project to raise the height of Folsom Dam. At a
site along Folsom Lake, Rocklin-based Odin Construction
Solutions is tackling the first phase of that effort, raising
what’s known as Dike 8.
Combined with a safer spillway completed in 2017, federal dam
officials say the flood-prone region is on its way to 300-year
or more flood safety, meaning there will only be a one-in-300
chance in any given year that the combination dam and
downstream levee system will fail.
Many of California’s watersheds are
notoriously flashy – swerving from below-average flows to jarring
flood conditions in quick order. The state needs all the water it
can get from storms, but current flood management guidelines are
strict and unyielding, requiring reservoirs to dump water each
winter to make space for flood flows that may not come.
However, new tools and operating methods are emerging that could
lead the way to a redefined system that improves both water
supply and flood protection capabilities.
Sixty percent of California’s developed water supply originates high in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Our water supply is largely dependent on the health of our Sierra forests, which are suffering from ecosystem degradation, drought, wildfires and widespread tree mortality.
Participants joined us as we guided them on a virtual journey into the foothills and the mountains to examine water issues that happen upstream but have dramatic impacts downstream and throughout the state.
Eldorado Irrigation District staff said the proposed
improvements and replacements are needed because the existing
equipment does not allow selective temperature withdrawal at
multiple elevations for the benefit of downstream fisheries. In
addition the existing pumps and boosters have reached the end
of their useful life, having undergone multiple repairs over
Water managers are shifting from flood control to water storage
at reservoirs across California. Folsom Lake is at roughly 70
percent capacity, with about twice the amount of inflow as
outflow. “Some of the challenges we have — there are water
demands that are always increasing at Folsom, we have snowpack
that’s large, we have weather storms that come in,” said Todd
Plain with Bureau of Reclamation.
The city currently has six groundwater pumping stations that
were used during the drought. But the stations have the ability
to pump water back into the aquifer as well. The Folsom Dam
currently has three gates open to release enough water so it
has room to capture flood water. Roseville Utility officials
say it’s just the right time to do a larger scale test of its
water injection strategy.
With another potential government shutdown on the horizon,
President Donald Trump remains coy about whether he’ll declare
a national emergency to fund the border wall he promised during
his 2016 campaign. This week, he told reporters that he
could use that power and divert money from the Army Corps of
Engineers. Democrats worry that could mean taking money away
from ongoing projects in Northern California, like raising
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Rep. Doris Matsui’s office
announced that the [Sacramento] region has been allocated
nearly $1.8 billion to strengthen levees and raise Folsom Dam.
… In total, the Army Corps allocated $17 billion for
flood projects around the country Thursday, as part of a
congressional appropriation in February.
The Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
are currently testing Folsom Dam’s auxiliary spillway, part of
the official commissioning of the newly constructed structure.
The Corps, in cooperation with Reclamation, are testing all of
the major systems in the structure, ensuring that the facility
operates as intended in the design. The tests, underway this
week and next, include operating and releasing water from all
six new auxiliary spillway radial gates.
Sixty percent of California’s developed water supply
originates high in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Our water
supply is largely dependent on the health of our Sierra forests,
which are suffering from ecosystem degradation, drought,
wildfires and widespread tree mortality.
Environmental advocates are calling on state officials to
notify the public about past tests showing high levels of E.
coli in Folsom Lake and Lake Natoma, two of the region’s most
popular areas for open water swimming and boating. But
officials responsible for recreational use on the lakes say the
test results cited are too old, while the agency that conducted
the tests says it has no responsibility for public notices.
One of the wettest years in California history that ended a
record five-year drought has rejuvenated the call for new storage
to be built above and below ground.
In a state that depends on large surface water reservoirs to help
store water before moving it hundreds of miles to where it is
used, a wet year after a long drought has some people yearning
for a place to sock away some of those flood flows for when they
The company that built one of greater Sacramento’s most
important flood-control projects in years will fix the damaged
spillways at Oroville Dam, site of a near catastrophe two
months ago. … Kiewit has considerable experience with dam
projects, including the decadelong, $900 million upgrade of
Twelve years ago, widespread destruction from Hurricane Katrina
on the Gulf Coast helped compel federal engineers 2,000 miles
away in California to remake a 1950s-era dam by constructing a
massive steel-and-concrete gutter that would manage surging
waters in times of torrential storms.
The critical document that determines how much space should be
left in Lake Oroville for flood control during the rainy season
hasn’t been updated since 1970, and it uses climatological data
and runoff projections so old they don’t account for two of the
biggest floods ever to strike the region. … Most
recently, the issue of outdated dam manuals came up in the
context of California’s five-year drought.
As a test run at the Oroville Dam spillway commenced Wednesday
afternoon, the director of the Department of Water Resources
said at a press conference in Sacramento he expected the bottom
of the spillway to be eroded away by spring, with a replacement
completed by fall.
Northern California is on track to break rainfall records. …
But you wouldn’t know the region has experienced an
exceptionally wet winter looking at the steep, dry shores
ringing the Sacramento region’s largest reservoir, Folsom Lake.
Despite its dramatic rise from a record-low level last fall,
water managers said Tuesday that Folsom Lake will likely not
fill to capacity this year. … Now, Reclamation officials are
developing a plan for what could be a critical third year of
Even with unseasonably warm temperatures and little to no rain
in the forecast for at least the next seven days, the operators
of Folsom Dam are going to more than double the flows in the
lower American River to protect against flooding.
Folsom — which dwindled to 14% of capacity last year and became
a global image of the California drought — has more than
tripled in size since December, thanks to a series of storms
that has brought above-average snow and rainfall to Northern
California regulators set a minimum level of water that should
be held behind Shasta and Folsom lakes Tuesday in an effort to
avoid another catastrophic die-off of Sacramento River salmon,
but they reserved the right to change the limit if El Niño
rains fill up the reservoirs.
It’s shaping up as the biggest snowstorm to hit the central
Sierra in two years. … After four years of drought, its
reservoirs are dry: Folsom Lake last week hit its lowest point
since record-keeping began 40 years ago.
It will take dozens of rain storms to alter the effects of
California’s four-year drought. … With Folsom Lake now
at just 15 percent of capacity, water experts are once again
urging Californians to conserve.
Even as Sacramento waits for the soaking El Niño forecast to
hit this fall, Folsom Lake continues to lose water and will
almost certainly fall Thursday to its lowest level in more than
20 years, government data show.
Plastic pipes that will go over Folsom Dam and connect to pump
barges were rolled out Thursday as the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation continues to work on a temporary emergency floating
pump system. … Currently, Folsom Lake is at 19 percent
capacity and has dropped 3 feet this month.
Taxed by years of drought, the lake [Folsom Lake] is currently
filled to 19 percent of its total capacity, with officials from
the federal Bureau of Reclamation foreseeing it may yet drop
below the 1977 record-low of 150 acre feet. Low water levels
change more than the lake’s aesthetics.
More than 200,000 rainbow trout suffocated in a matter of
minutes Tuesday at the American River Hatchery near Rancho
Cordova due to an unexpected release of gunk from Folsom Dam
that clogged water intakes.
As water regulators continue to rapidly drain Folsom Lake to
bolster supplies downstream, crews have begun construction of a
floating barge that could keep water flowing to the city of
Folsom this fall. … At current outflows, Folsom Lake would
reach record-low depths within weeks.
Four years of dry, hot weather have raised lake temperatures
and depleted many of the state’s reservoirs. In response, the
state has cut flows from Lake Shasta to protect an endangered
species of salmon and raised flows from Folsom Lake to prevent
salt water from intruding into the Delta.
Folsom Lake water levels will likely drop to historic lows by
summer’s end, possibly hovering just above the point where
cities and water agencies can still draw water from the
reservoir, according to interviews with federal and local
California’s drought has made it abundantly clear how important
it is to know exactly how much water is available. …
Scientists from the Desert Research Institute in Reno, the
California Department of Water Resources and the US Bureau of
Reclamation are placing a floating weather station in the water
at Folsom Lake.
The Bureau of Reclamation has released the final environmental
documents on a Safety of Dams project at Folsom Reservoir’s
Dike 1 in the Granite Bay Recreation Area. The Dike 1
improvement modifications are being performed under
Reclamation’s Safety of Dams Program to address water seepage
through the Dike 1 embankment.
This 25-minute documentary-style DVD, developed in partnership
with the California Department of Water Resources, provides an
excellent overview of climate change and how it is already
affecting California. The DVD also explains what scientists
anticipate in the future related to sea level rise and
precipitation/runoff changes and explores the efforts that are
underway to plan and adapt to climate.
30-minute DVD that traces the history of the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation and its role in the development of the West. Includes
extensive historic footage of farming and the construction of
dams and other water projects, and discusses historic and modern
Water as a renewable resource is depicted in this 18×24 inch
poster. Water is renewed again and again by the natural
hydrologic cycle where water evaporates, transpires from plants,
rises to form clouds, and returns to the earth as precipitation.
Excellent for elementary school classroom use.
The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to the Central Valley Project
explores the history and development of the federal Central
Valley Project (CVP), California’s largest surface water delivery
system. In addition to the project’s history, the guide describes
the various CVP facilities, CVP operations, the benefits the CVP
brought to the state and the CVP Improvement Act (CVPIA).
A new look for our most popular product! And it’s the perfect
gift for the water wonk in your life.
Our 24×36 inch California Water Map is widely known for being the
definitive poster that shows the integral role water plays in the
state. On this updated version, it is easier to see California’s
natural waterways and man-made reservoirs and aqueducts
– including federally, state and locally funded
projects – the wild and scenic rivers system, and
natural lakes. The map features beautiful photos of
California’s natural environment, rivers, water projects,
wildlife, and urban and agricultural uses and the
text focuses on key issues: water supply, water use, water
projects, the Delta, wild and scenic rivers and the Colorado
Devastating floods are almost an annual occurrence in the west
and in California. With the anticipated sea level rise and other
impacts of a changing climate, particularly heavy winter rains,
flood management is increasingly critical in California.
Compounding the issue are man-made flood hazards such as levee
instability and stormwater runoff.