California’s History of Dry Spells and Recovery in Photos

Dry spells come and go in California, where the difference between a wet and dry year often depends on how much precipitation the state gets from just a few storms during winter.

58 photos
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California Department of Water Resources
A view of Vista Point along the California Aqueduct in Stanislaus County in July 2015 (left) and March 2013, before a dry spell.
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California Department of Water Resources
The drought of 1976 caused low water conditions at Shasta Lake, California's largest reservoir. Visitors normally enjoy boating, swimming, fishing and camping at the Shasta County reservoir.
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California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at the Bidwell Canyon Marina, at Lake Oroville in Butte County. Photo taken December 1976.
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California Department of Water Resources
During the drought of 1976 a local business in Marin County in Northern California, placed a holiday sign asking for folks to pray for rain. Photo taken December 1976
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California Department of Water Resources
Drought conditions exposed a cracked lakebed at the Nicasio Reservoir in Marin County. The Marin Municipal Water District erected Seeger Dam on Nicasio Creek in 1961, which created the shallow 845-acre reservoir in the Nicasio Valley, 26-miles north of San Francisco in Northern California. Photo taken December 1976.
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Paul Weber / California Department of Water Resources
This aerial view looks south toward the low water drought conditions at Folsom Lake Marina, one of the largest inland in California, located at Browns Ravine Cove on the south shore of Folsom Lake. Photo taken October 6, 1976
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California Department of Water Resources
The drought of 1976 caused low water conditions at Shasta Lake, California's largest reservoir. Operated by the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation, Shasta Dam backs up water from the Sacramento River for more than 35 miles to form the lake and controls flood waters, while supplying water for irrigation, municipal and industrial use, wildlife habitat maintenance and power generation. Photo taken September 1976. California Department of Water Resources
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California Department of Water Resources
Drought conditions along the South Fork American River near Salmon Falls within El Dorado County during the summer of 1977. Photo taken July 6, 1977. Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources
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California Department of Water Resources
Drought conditions at Bass Lake in Madera County, California during the summer of 1977. Photo taken July 6, 1977. Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources
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California Department of Water Resources
Drought conditions at Bass Lake in Madera County, California during the summer of 1977. Photo taken July 6, 1977. Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources
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California Department of Water Resources
Drought conditions at Bass Lake in Madera County, California during the summer of 1977. Photo taken July 6, 1977. Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources
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California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at Folsom Lake Marina, one of the largest inland marinas in California, located at Browns Ravine Cove on the south shore of Folsom Lake. Photo taken July 6, 1977. Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources
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Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at Folsom Dam and Lake on November 17, 1977. Folsom Lake was created in 1955 by the construction of Folsom Dam, a concrete dam flanked by earth wing dams and dikes, with a total length of about nine miles. The shoreline extends about 15 miles up the forks of the American River. Lake level normally varies from 460 feet in early spring to less than 400 feet by summer.
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Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at Folsom Dam and Lake on November 17, 1977. Folsom Lake was created in 1955 by the construction of Folsom Dam, a concrete dam flanked by earth wing dams and dikes, with a total length of about nine miles. The shoreline extends about 15 miles up the forks of the American River. Lake level normally varies from 460 feet in early spring to less than 400 feet by summer.
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Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at Folsom Dam and Lake on November 17, 1977. Folsom Lake was created in 1955 by the construction of Folsom Dam, a concrete dam flanked by earth wing dams and dikes, with a total length of about nine miles. The shoreline extends about 15 miles up the forks of the American River. Lake level normally varies from 460 feet in early spring to less than 400 feet by summer. Vince Arrant / California Department of Water Resources
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Paul Weber / California Department of Water Resources
This aerial view looks north over Indian Valley Reservoir in Lake County, during drought conditions. The six-mile long, one mile wide reservoir was completed 1975, with a gross capacity of 300,600 acre feet, part of the Yolo County Flood Control & Water Conservation District. Photo taken March 2, 1977.
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Jim Wardlow / California Department of Water Resources
This aerial view during drought conditions exposed trees normally underwater at Shasta Lake. Shasta Dam and Lake are on Sacramento River and operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Northern California. Photo taken May 20, 1977.
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Norm Hughes / California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at Folsom Dam and Lake on November 10, 1988. Folsom Lake was created in 1955 by the construction of Folsom Dam, a concrete dam flanked by earth wing dams and dikes, with a total length of about nine miles. The shoreline extends about 15 miles up the forks of the American River.
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Norm Hughes / California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at Folsom Dam and Lake on November 10, 1988. Folsom Lake was created in 1955 by the construction of Folsom Dam, a concrete dam flanked by earth wing dams and dikes, with a total length of about nine miles.
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Robert Eplett / California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at Folsom Lake Marina, one of the largest inland marinas in California, located at Browns Ravine Cove on the south shore of Folsom Lake. Photo taken July 24, 1988.
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Robert Eplett / California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at Sly Park Recreation Area and Jenkinson Lake in El Dorado County. Jenkinson Lake offers swimming, fishing and water skiing and paddle sports activities. The lake located in the Sierra Nevada foothills is surrounded by nine miles of trails for hikers, bikers and horses. Today, the lake is managed by the El Dorado Irrigation District. Photo taken July 24, 1988.
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California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at Lake Cachuma located in the Santa Ynez Valley and the San Rafael Mountains in Santa Barbara County. The reservoir was formed from Bradbury Dam, which is connected to the Central Coast Water Authority pipeline that delivers water from the Coastal Branch Aqueduct of the California State Water Project. Photo taken September 1990.
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Robert Eplett / California Department of Water Resources
Low water conditions during the drought of 1990 exposed rocks and a wider beach along the west shore of Lake Tahoe, at the mouth of the Truckee River in Tahoe City, California. Lake Tahoe at an elevation of 6,225 feet is a large freshwater lake within the Sierra Nevada Mountains that straddles the California and Nevada border. Photo taken August 23, 1990.
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Robert Eplett / California Department of Water Resources
Low water conditions during the drought of 1990 exposed rocks under this pier on the west shore of Lake Tahoe, at the mouth of the Truckee River in Tahoe City, California. Lake Tahoe at an elevation of 6,225 feet is a large freshwater lake within the Sierra Nevada Mountains that straddles the California and Nevada border. Photo taken August 23, 1990.
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Robert Eplett / California Department of Water Resources
Low water conditions during the drought of 1990 exposed rocks and a wider beach along the west shore of Lake Tahoe, at the mouth of the Truckee River in Tahoe City, California. Lake Tahoe at an elevation of 6,225 feet is a large freshwater lake within the Sierra Nevada Mountains that straddles the California and Nevada border. Photo taken August 23, 1990.
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California Department of Water Resources
Drought conditions at Camanche Dam and Reservoir at the juncture of Amador, Calaveras, and San Joaquin counties. Photo taken April 11, 1991. Norm Hughes / California Department of Water Resources
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California Department of Water Resources
This aerial view looks west toward the South Shore section, left, of the Camanche Reservoir during drought conditions in 1991. The dam and reservoir are location at the juncture of Amador, Calaveras, and San Joaquin counties. Photo taken April 11, 1991. Norm Hughes / California Department of Water Resources
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California Department of Water Resources
This aerial view looks northeast toward the low water drought conditions at Folsom Dam and Lake on February 19, 1991. Folsom Lake was created in 1955 by the construction of Folsom Dam, a concrete dam flanked by earth wing dams and dikes, with a total length of about nine miles. The shoreline extends about 15 miles up the forks of the American River. Lake level normally varies from 460 feet in early spring to less than 400 feet by summer. Norm Hughes / California Department of Water Resources
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California Department of Water Resources
This aerial view looks south over Indian Valley Reservoir in Lake County, with exposed trees during low-water drought conditions. The six-mile long, one mile wide reservoir was completed 1975, with a gross capacity of 300,600 acre feet, part of the Yolo County Flood Control & Water Conservation District. Photo taken February 14, 1991.
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Stephen Payer / California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at the Folsom Lake Marina on Browns Ravine Cove on the east shore of Folsom Lake. The marina is one of the largest inland marinas in California. The Folsom Lake State Recreation Area offers hiking, running, camping, picnicking, horseback riding, water-skiing and boating, located in the Sierra Nevada foothills about 25 miles east of downtown Sacramento. Photo taken February 10, 1991.
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California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at Folsom Lake exposed large boulders and other objects on the lakebed near this picnic area. Folsom Lake State Recreation Area offers hiking, running, camping, picnicking, horseback riding, water-skiing and boating, located in the Sierra Nevada foothills about 25 miles east of downtown Sacramento. Photo taken February 10, 1991.
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California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at Folsom Lake exposed huge open spaces, which would be underwater during normal water levels. Photo taken February 10, 1991.
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Stephen Payer / California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at Folsom Lake exposed large boulders on the lakebed. Photo taken February 10, 1991.
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Stephen Payer / California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at the Folsom Lake Marina on Browns Ravine Cove on the south shore of Folsom Lake. Photo taken February 10, 1991.
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Stephen Payer / California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at the Folsom Lake Marina on Browns Ravine Cove on the south shore of Folsom Lake. The marina is one of the largest inland marinas in California. Photo taken February 10, 1991.
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California Department of Water Resources
During the drought of 1992, a group of pervasive Canada geese one of the best known birds in North America find a wetlands area with low water levels near Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Photo taken October 1992.
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California Department of Water Resources
During the drought of 1992, the snow pack was nearly gone on Mount Shasta, located on the southern end of the Cascade Range in Siskiyou County. During wet winters, the mountaintops are covered in snow that melts in spring and help replenish California's water reservoirs. Photo taken in October 1992.
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Stephen Payer / California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at Folsom Lake on October 20, 2008. Folsom Lake was created in 1955 by the construction of Folsom Dam, a concrete dam flanked by earth wing dams and dikes, with a total length of about nine miles.
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Stephen Payer / California Department of Water Resources
Another view of the low water level at Folsom Lake in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The lake is a vital state reservoir, one of several that provide water for millions of Californians. Photo take in October 2008.
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Stephen Payer / California Department of Water Resources
A dry Folsom Lake bed in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range. Photo take in October 2008.
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Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources
Low water levels can be seen on the American River at William B. Pond Recreation Area. The river runs from the Sierra Nevada mountains to the Scramento Valley, where it joins th Sacramento River. Photo taken January 16, 2014.
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John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at Folsom Dam and Lake located in Sacramento and El Dorado counties. Photo taken January 26, 2014.
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John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at Folsom Dam and Lake located in Sacramento and El Dorado counties. Photo taken January 26, 2014.
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John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources
Low water drought conditions at Folsom Dam and Lake located in Sacramento and El Dorado counties. Photo taken January 26, 2014.
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John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources
Another view of Folsom Dam and Lake during a 2014 dry spell. Photo taken January 26, 2014.
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John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources
Dry condition in 2014 at Folsom Lake in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Photo taken January 26, 2014.
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John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources
Two people walk across a dry Folsom Lake in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Photo taken January 26, 2014.
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John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources
A sweeping view of Folsom Lake in Sacramento and El Dorado counties during one of California's dry spells. Photo taken January 26, 2014.
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Getty Images
Boat docks at Browns Ravine sit on dry ground at Folsom Lake on August 19, 2014 in El Dorado Hills, California.
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California Department of Water R
A view looking north from the California Aqueduct Vista Point, an exit off southbound 5 Freeway near Exit 423 Stuhr Road in Stanislaus County. Photo taken July 23, 2015. The brown expanse is in contrast to the green that covered the landscape just two years earlier as seen in the next slide.
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California Department of Water Resources
A view looking north from the California Aqueduct Vista Point, an exit off southbound Interstate 5 near Exit 423 Stuhr Road in Stanislaus County. Photo taken March 4, 2013. Notice the green landscape ahead of what was to become one of the state's worst dry spells on record.
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Getty Images
Skiers ski past dry ground at Squaw Valley Ski Resort, March 21, 2015 in Olympic Valley, California.
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Getty Images
Houseboats in the Bidwell Canyon Marina are dwarfed by the steep banks of Lake Oroville on May 7, 2015 in Oroville, California.
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Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources
Anaheim Lake is an Orange County Water District groundwater recharge basin. It provides most of northern and central Orange County’s drinking water. Photo taken Feb. 26, 2015.
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Kelly M. Grow/ California Department of Water Resources
Lake Success in Porterville, California is pictured on July 28, 2015, when storage was reported at 7 percent capacity or 19 percent of average capacity.
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Kelly M. Grow/ California Department of Water Resources
A dry and empty field on off Highway 33 in Coalinga, California, located in the state's Central Valley region. Photo take July 29, 2015.
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AP
Fog and mist shroud the Sierra Nevada, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, near Echo Summit, California during one of the state's wettest winters in years.
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AP
Houseboats sit on the rising waters of Oroville Lake, near Oroville, Calif. Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. More than 40 percent of California had emerged from a punishing drought that covered the whole state a year earlier. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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