Water & Drought

Satellite images show how much Central Coast reservoirs have filled in just one month

A Jan. 30, 2017, image from the Landsat 8 satellite reveals how a month of winter storms has transformed the water levels at Lake Nacimiento and Lake San Antonio.
A Jan. 30, 2017, image from the Landsat 8 satellite reveals how a month of winter storms has transformed the water levels at Lake Nacimiento and Lake San Antonio.

Images captured by a satellite launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base four years ago show the dramatic difference in water levels for two Central Coast reservoirs after recent rains.

The U.S. Geological Survey posted a Landsat 8 image from Dec. 29, showing low water levels for Lake San Antonio in Monterey County and Lake Nacimiento in both San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties.

California’s drought left Lake Nacimiento only 22 percent full as of late last year.

Nearby Lake San Antonio remained at critical levels and was closed to the public July 1, 2015.

However, a Jan. 30 image reveals how the recent precipitation has transformed the water levels in these two lakes.

Lake Nacimiento is 87 percent full, while Lake San Antonio — virtually dry before — is about 35 percent full, as of Tuesday, according to data from the Monterey County Water Resources Agency.

“A decade of drought in California has eased after the first month of 2017, thanks to heavy rains and snow, a fact that Landsat images are helping to confirm,” USGS noted in its post of the images.

Landsat 8’s Operational Land Imager captured the dramatic reversal in these false-color views of Lake Nacimiento and Lake San Antonio, USGS officials added.

Both images also depict in red the scar left by last summer’s Chimney Fire, which charred more than 46,000 acres.

 
A Jan. 30, 2017, image from the Landsat 8 satellite reveals how a month of winter storms has transformed the water levels at Lake Nacimiento and Lake San Antonio.U.S. Geological Survey
 
A Dec. 29, 2016, image from the Landsat 8 satellite reveals the low water levels at the time at Lake Nacimiento and Lake San Antonio. U.S. Geological Survey

“For the first time in three years, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported in late January 2017 that not a single area in California is considered in ‘exceptional drought,’ the most severe category,” the USGS said. “A year ago, about 40 percent of the state was under the most severe designation.

After six weeks of rain, San Luis Obispo County was downgraded from “exceptional drought” to “moderate drought, and as of Feb. 1, more than 48 percent of California was considered drought-free — compared to only 5 percent a year ago, according to the Drought Monitor.

The satellite responsible for capturing the images headed to space Feb. 11, 2013, aboard an Atlas V rocket that blasted off from south Vandenberg.

Landsat 8 was originally dubbed the Landsat Data Continuity Mission but was renamed once it reached space. The imagery is used in agriculture, business, science and government.

Data from the Landsat series of spacecraft, which have launched into orbit from Vandenberg since 1972, make up the longest record of the Earth’s continental surfaces as seen from space.

NASA has put Landsat 9 on a fast track with plans for launch in December 2020 from Vandenberg.

Thanks to January storms, Lake Nacimiento in northern San Luis Obispo County has gained more than 200,000 acre-feet since December 31, 2016. New footage of Lake Nacimiento was taken on January 24, 2017.

Almost a year ago, Santa Margarita Lake was at just 12 percent capacity. Now, after a series of storms that dumped rain across San Luis Obispo County, the lake sits at about 70 percent capacity.

Noozhawk.com is a Santa Barbara-based news website. North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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