Shasta Lake horror—and a glimmer of hope

On the way home from visiting my mother-in-law in the town of Mount Shasta, we stopped at Bridge Bay Resort to take some photos of Shasta Lake

Located at an elevation of 1,067 ft. fifty miles south of Mount Shasta and ten miles north of Redding, Shasta Lake is California’s largest man-made reservoir and its third largest body of water, after Lake Tahoe and the Salton Sea. It feeds the Sacramento River watershed and hence much of the Central Valley, and water from the lake also supplies a hydroelectric powerplant at Shasta Dam.

With 365 miles of shoreline it’s also a major tourist destination in the North State, especially for houseboating. At least when things are “normal,” not that the word “normal” means much anymore in a time when California seems to lurch from one climate crisis to another.

On October 31, 2021, the day I took these photos, the water level was at 885 ft. (full lake elevation is 1067 ft.). That translates into a shocking 22% of capacity. To put this into context: In February 2017, in California's wettest winter on record, Shasta Lake was at 97%, and Shasta Dam released water for the first time in 20 years. But the most recent drought, which started in early 2020 and reached epic proportions this summer, has caused enormous drops in lake levels up and down the state. The record rainfall in late October did help: Shasta Lake's water level is up 4 ft. since October 23, 2021, but we have a long way to go.

Shasta Lake's exposed shoreline has a brutal sort of beauty, much like Lake Powell does. But that's not the way Shasta Lake is supposed to look. When it’s full, the water level is close to the tree line and you see almost no bathtub ring. In light of that, the current state is a bleak, if memorable, sight indeed.

Pit River Bridge across Shasta Lake, with Interstate 5 traffic on the upper deck and the Pacific Union Railroad on the lower deck

Bridge Bay Marina 1 and 2, with Pit River Bridge on the right. The slips are for private boats as well as for houseboats you can rent. Not that houseboating is much fun when the lake is so low and many places you can ordinarily go are dry.

Bridge Bay Marina 3 and 4

Bridge Bay Marina 4

Here is a photo of the Pit River Bridge and Bridge Bay Marina 1 and 2 taken by Florence Low of the California Department of Water Resources on February 25, 2016 when the lake was at 79 percent capacity:

© Florence Low/California Department of Water Resources

The difference is mind-blowing. 

Shasta Lake has a long way to go, but with the recent rains, there's a glimmer of hope that things are on the right track. Good news: more rain is in the forecast for the area—about 2 inches on Monday and Tuesday.

© Gerhard Bock, 2021. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. Terrifying is a word I would use. Without water nothing survives. There is an interesting post on the state of California's reservoirs on PhotoBotanic's website. Saxon Holt has also taken some very alarming photos similar to yours. Hopefully more rain is on it's way. We are super dry here as well but nothing in the immediate forecast.

  2. It's all very scary. I hope NorCal does indeed get a decent amount of rain this year, ameliorating some of the problems up your way. The prognosis isn't anywhere near as promising for SoCal. We have a small chance of rain in the coming week but it seems to be evaporating. The heavy marine layer actually gave us 0.02/inch of precipitation yesterday, though.

  3. My rain gauge says 9" total since our first rain. Of course since it's been mild and the soil is still reasonably warm I have weeds popping up everywhere. But I don't care .. the end of fire season and good rainfall totals is worth a few hours of weed control. It would be great to have a normal 25 to 35 inches this winter.

  4. We are all hoping for a good rain season. Best wishes for rain tonight. NWS says "100% chance" for your area--those are good odds!


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