Portrait of the Drought: Lake McClure


Over the weekend, I went on a quick jaunt up to what I’d call the central Sierra foothills to take a look at a couple of the drought-drained reservoirs up there: Lake Don Pedro, on the Tuolumne River, owned by the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts, is the fifth-largest reservoir in California at just over 2 million acre-feet (enough water, by a popular rule of thumb, for about 4 million households); and Lake McClure, on the Merced River, which is one of the 10 biggest reservoirs at 1 million acre-feet or so.

As usual, I was running late, made more stops along the highway up to the lakes than was prudent, and got up to Don Pedro as the light was getting pretty long. Lake McClure was just a few miles away, though, and I got there when sunset colors were still in the sky. Still, not ideal reservoir portrait conditions.

Here’s a little history to go with the images: A month ago, February 3, Lake McClure fell to its lowest level since it was filled in the 1960s. Per statistics from the state Department of Water Resources, Its volume shrank to 63,489 acre-feet (remember, capacity is 1 million) and its surface was at 585.99 feet above sea level. That broke a record set during the six-year drought of 1986-1992, when the lake fell to 66,228 acre-feet, 588.48 surface elevation.

The Lake McClure nadir during the terrible drought of 1976-77 — the drought that saw Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville, among others, fall to their record lows, was 72,200 acre-feet, 594 surface elevation.

Tomorrow, perhaps: some pictures of the Lake Don Pedro. The pictures here are from one of the boat ramps at the Barrett Cove area of Lake McClure.


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