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Lake Oroville's Water Woes Could Turn Into Power Problem

OROVILLE (CBS13) – It's another sign of how extreme this summer's drought is shaping up to be.

California is now forecasting Lake Oroville could hit a record low level, not seen in nearly half a century. And if it does, the California Department of Water Resources will plan to shut down the reservoir's Edward Hyatt hydroelectric power plant because of its low water supply.

Lake Oroville is a picture of California's looming drought problem. Houseboats were sunken down, surrounded by Lake Oroville's steep banks.

Kim Gunter owns a houseboat on the reservoir and has watched the water level lower each day.

"It's sad," Gunter said. "They're projecting by the end of summer there will be no available ramps, no access, they may have to move marinas all over water."

John Yarbrough is deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources State Water Project and is prepared to shut down the Lake Oroville hydroelectric power plant if the water levels continue to drop.

"This would be the first time we would be stopping it because the lake level is so low," Yarbrough said.

At full capacity, it can generate enough power to serve 800,000 homes.

It is running at 20% capacity now and could be shut down by the end of August. April was a particularly bad month for the reservoir.

"We received only 20% of the runoff that we would have expected from the snowpack we had this year," Yarbrough said.

Lake Oroville's record low of 645 feet was hit in 1977.

"We think it will get around that ballpark. We're looking at 640, we don't know exactly," Yarbrough said.

The California Independent System Operator is already planning for alternate energy sources.

"If you look out in the distance you can see where the lake should be," Gunter said.

One look at Lake Oroville shows the concern ahead for California's summer. If the power plant is shut down, the state Water Resources Department says it would take a while to turn back on, not until rain brings the lake level back up.

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