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In an aerial view taken on June 1, low water levels are visible at Lake Oroville in California. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Golden State needs water now, right now.

Why it matters: California reservoir water levels are so low that some hydroelectric power plants may be forced offline during the peak of summer wildfire season, AP reports.

  • The state's massive water storage system is vanishing faster than usual.
  • The state’s reservoirs are 50% lower than normal, according to Jay Lund of the University of California at Davis.
  • More water isn't coming: The mountain snowpack vanished two months ahead of schedule, and California doesn't enjoy rainy summers.

All of this is ahead of the summer heat waves.

The big picture: These drought cycles are tied to climate change and are expected to worsen as population growth drives more water demand in the region, notes Axios' Bryan Walsh.

In the case of Lake Oroville in California, the reduced water levels threaten catastrophic downstream effects, AP notes.

Data: National Integrated Drought Information System; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
  • Salmon need cold water from the bottom of the reservoirs to spawn, and San Francisco Bay needs fresh water from the reservoirs to keep out the salt water that harms freshwater fish.
  • Farmers need to irrigate fields that are far less productive without water. Some of those fields won't yield a crop without irrigation.
  • And those lakes supply electricity: If Lake Oroville falls below 640 feet, which it could do by late August, state officials would shut down a major power plant for just the second time ever because of low water levels.

The bottom line: The Southwest is drying out, and California's large wildfires could start as soon as this month.

  • Vegetation is at near-record dry levels for this time of year, wildfire expert Craig Clements told Axios' Andrew Freedman.

Go deeper

Study: Warming driving rapid oxygen losses in lakes in U.S. and across globe

California's Fannette Island in at Lake Tahoe, which straddles the border of California and Nevada. Scientists reported last year that climate change has affected the water temperature and its clarity, per CBS News. Photo: George Rose/Getty Images

Oxygen levels in hundreds of freshwater lakes in the U.S. and around the world are plummeting — and climate change is largely to blame, according to a study published Wednesday.

Why it matters: Per a statement from study co-author Kevin Rose, a professor of biology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: "All complex life depends on oxygen. ... when you start losing oxygen, you have the potential to lose species."

California fire destroyed 10% of world's giant sequoias, report finds

50- to 70-year-old conifers turned into black sticks near McIntyre Grove Oct. 2020 in Springville, CA. Photo: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times

A single wildfire that burned through the southern Sierra Nevada last year destroyed anywhere from 10%-14% of Earth's mature redwood trees, according to a draft report from National Park Service scientists obtained by the Visalia Times-Delta.

The big picture: Some of the biggest wildfires in modern California history took place last year. California's 2021 wildfire season is already looking grim, as extreme drought grips much of the state and temperatures rise.

Exclusive: Quartz, NYT vets launch new media company about work

Photo credit: Emma Howells for Charter

Quartz co-founders Kevin Delaney and Jay Lauf, along with New York Times veteran Erin Grau, are launching a new media and services company called "Charter" that is centered around the future of work, the founders told Axios.

Why it matters: "There are other media companies that write about this topic — some occasionally and some more frequently, but it's one topic among many things that they do," Delaney said. "This is a driving focus for us."