Postcards from the Drought: Clear Lake’s edges still retreating
The water alongside the Clearlake Keys home of Michelle Figuera and her family normally would be above her head — she thinks about 10 feet deep.
Instead, the canal is dry, clogged with invasive plants that lie in a vast, tangled mass — their tendrils reaching up and over the edge of the wooden dock, which now rests on land.
During two years of drought, the water level in Clear Lake has fallen dramatically, retreating from the shoreline and rendering boat docks useless around the lake, including many public launches.
The shrinking water supply has warmed up in the summer heat, promoting toxic blue-green algae blooms that added risk to swimming and boating.
“We just miss the ducks,” said Figuera, 28, who lives with her mother, Teresa Figuera, and her two children, Jayden, 4, and Aubrey, 1, in the outermost part of the Keys. “My kids loved the ducks. They used to walk up on the docks, and my kids used to feed them.”
Clear Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake wholly within the state of California, with a surface area of 68 square miles when it’s full.
The lake level has dropped about 6½ feet across that entire surface since spring 2020, however. It is now close to minus 2 feet on what’s called the Rumsey Gauge, a scale by which 0 Rumsey is considered the natural low water level and 7.56 feet is considered “full.”
“It’s sure dry,” Figuera said.
That means places like at the furthest-most edges of the lake, like the Figueras’, are high and dry even while other canals in the Keys still have water.
During heavy rains and flooding in March 2019, the lake stopped rising just shy of 10 feet Rumsey. Its highest known level was 11.24 feet in March of 1983. The lowest was minus 3.5 feet in September of 1920.
Postcards from the Drought is an occasional photographic series aimed at reflecting the impact living with the drought continues to have on us each day. We welcome your suggestions. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.