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Drone photos show dramatic rise in California reservoir levels over three months

Winter storms in California have significantly improved dry conditions and filled state reservoirs that had held less than a third of their capacity.

Drone photos from the California Department of Water Resources show what a big difference a recent series of storms, triggered by 11 atmospheric rivers, has made.

The image below shows Lake Oroville in Butte County, the second largest reservoir in California. The first image was taken on December 21. The second image was taken on January 12, after several storms began to fill the reservoir. The last image was taken on March 8 and shows a dramatic improvement in the water level.

In the first image, the lake was at 29% capacity. In the second image, the level had jumped to 51%. And in the third photo, the figure reached 75%.

Lake Oroville’s water level rose steadily with every storm that passed through California this winter.

(Ken James; Andrew Innerarity; Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources)

According to The Times drought tracker, Lake Oroville was 80% full as of Tuesday. The historical average level for that day, March 14, was 71% over the last 30 years.

Nearly 100 miles south of Lake Oroville, Folsom Lake was exceptionally dry in November. When the photo below was taken, the lake was at 27% capacity.

An aerial view of a lake with a wide margin of dry land.

An image from November 2022 shows low water conditions surrounding the main beach of Granite Bay on Folsom Lake in Placer County, when the reservoir’s storage was 259,754 acre-feet.

(Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources)

By March 10, Folsom Dam was full enough for the Bureau of Reclamation to release water down its auxiliary spillway into the American River to control water levels.

An aerial view of water running off a road from a body of water.

An aerial view of the Folsom Dam on March 10.

(Jonathan Wong / California Department of Water Resources)

As of Tuesday, Folsom Lake was at 63% capacity, in line with the historical average level.

Winter storms have eased dry conditions across the state and prompted authorities to lift mandatory water restrictions for millions of Southern California residents.