Low Water Levels Forcing Boats Out Of Folsom Lake

Low water levels at Folsom Lake are exposing more steps to get down to the dock than usual for this time of year. (Scott Detrow/KQED)
Low water levels at Folsom Lake are exposing more steps to get down to the dock than usual for this time of year. (Scott Detrow/KQED)

The people who dock their boats at Folsom Lake, about 25 miles east of Sacramento, keep track of how dry the reservoir is by how many steps it takes to get from the parking lot to the floating dock.

In the spring, when melting snow and rainfall fill the lake’s basin, less than ten steps peek out from above the water. Last week, the number was 80. Jeff Gomez said he made sure to count as he trekked up and down the stairs eight different times. “I came down to refuel the boat,” Gomez said as he caught his breath after dragging a cooler down the 80 steps. “That took two trips. Now this was two trips.”

Gomez and his family were getting ready for one of their final boat rides of the year. Folsom Lake is at half its capacity, and low water levels will force Gomez and everyone else who docks their boats in the lake to remove their crafts from the water by Sunday, August 11.

It’s not unusual for Folsom Lake to lose water over the course of the summer, but the boat-removal order typically comes in the fall, not early August. “It’s not shocking, because we expected it. Lack of snow, lack of rain” said Gomez as he prepped his speedboat for an afternoon of tubing. “It’s kind of sad, though.”

“It Just Fell Off The Map”


Folsom Lake’s early boat-removal order is the latest evidence of California’s current dry stretch. The state’s “water year” begins in October. It got off to a “robust start,” in terms of rainfall, according to federal Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Pete Lucero. (Reclamation oversees the Central Valley Project, which manages water throughout central California.) “And then it just fell off the map,” he said. The January-May stretch “was the lowest recorded precipitation year in a five-month period ever,” he said.

That’s left Folsom Lake at 81 percent of its typical August average. Other reservoirs are hurting, too.

“In Shasta [Lake] we’re at about 78 percent of its average. The state’s Oroville Reservoir is about 89 percent of average. The New Melones Reservoir is at 72 percent. And our off-storage reservoir, the San Luis Res down near Los Banos, is at 39 percent of the 15-year average.”

The Millerton Lake near Fresno is the only Central Valley reservoir above average August levels. “Water right now, as it always is in California, is a really finite resource,” said Lucero.