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California closes major hydropower plant amid record low water levels on Lake Oroville

In this aerial view, houseboats sit on Lake Oroville at low tide as the California drought emergency worsens in Oroville, California on July 25, 2021.

Robyn Beck | AFP | Getty Images

SANTA MONICA, Calif. – California shut down a large hydropower plant on Lake Oroville when the water level fell near the minimum required to generate electricity, state water authorities said.

It is the first time since the power plant opened in 1967 that the state has shut down the Hyatt power plant due to a lack of water.

The blackout could trigger even more blackouts this summer as the state grapples with a historic drought and record-breaking heat waves.

Officials said the record low water level at Lake Oroville, an artificial water reserve in Northern California, was due to the drought aggravated by climate change.

Although California is constantly hit by drought, climate change has fueled high temperatures and arid soils, which significantly reduced water runoff to the reservoirs this spring, resulting in the lowest levels ever recorded at Lake Oroville, officials said Thursday.

"This is just one of many unprecedented impacts we are experiencing in California as a result of our climate-induced drought," Karla Nemeth, director of the state's water resources division, said in a statement.

Nemeth said the department anticipated the shutdown and planned a loss of water and network management. Officials have warned the facility will no longer be able to generate electricity if the water level drops below 640 feet above sea level.

Dry land is visible in a section that is usually underwater on the shores of Lake Oroville, which is the second largest reservoir in California and has a capacity of nearly 35, according to daily reports from the state Department of Water Resources near Oroville, California % hat, 06/16/2021.

Aude Guerrucci | Reuters

Lake Oroville's water levels are expected to reach 620 feet above sea level by the end of October. Nemeth said the state's water board was working to "save as much water as possible".

Although the facility is no longer generating electricity, officials said they will dump some water from the dam into the Feather River to help maintain the river's temperature requirements.

Governor Gavin Newsom urged California residents in July to reduce household water use by 15% in order to maintain water supplies. Grid operators have also urged residents to limit electricity usage to avoid blackouts as forest fires scorched the state, including the Dixie Fire, which has been burning for more than three weeks and decimated the gold rush town of Greenville.

"Falling reservoir levels are another example of why it is so important for all Californians to conserve water," said Nemeth.

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