Earlier this month, the water level in Lake Oroville – California’s second-largest reservoir – was so low that dozens of houseboats were hauled out. There wasn’t enough water to hold them.
In a few weeks, officials say, the lake’s water levels are likely to dip even lower – forcing them to shut down one of the state’s largest hydroelectric power plants for the first time since it was built in 1967.
Amid a historic megadrought, the climate crisis and energy crisis in California are about to collide, and set off a vicious cycle. The state’s diminishing water supply is cutting down hydropower, and California is relying more on fossil fuels as extreme summer heat drives up electricity use.
“This situation really highlights the ways in which climate and energy and water are all very tightly linked,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at Stanford University. With meteorologists anticipating a hot, fiery summer, experts say that cuts to hydropower will increase pressure on the state’s already-stressed power grid, as residents across the region crank up their air conditioners. And as drought desiccates the west, the state’s increasing reliance on gas-fired plants could also compromise its goal of transitioning to carbon-free electricity.