Shasta Lake's low water level reveals a piece of California's past

Shasta Lake's low water level reveals a piece of California's past »Play Video

REDDING, Calif. - An extremely low water level at northern California's Shasta Lake is revealing an interesting part of the state's history.

"It's surprising," said Lawrence Wingate with Antlers Resort & Marina. "We have all these structures down here. It's like a little piece of history right here in every cove."

Shasta Lake, a popular recreational lake located near Redding, California, is 155.43 feet from the crest (as of Nov. 7) and is only 29 percent full, according to Sheri Harral with the Bureau of Reclamation.  And that's actually up from it's lowest point this year, which was 157 feet.  A storm that brought four inches of rain helped out.

The record low for the lake was back in 1977 when the water level dropped 230 feet during a long drought.  It had been the second consecutive year of low rainfall for the area - only 24 inches fell that year, according to Harral.

The lake was formed after Shasta Dam was constructed in the 1940s and when that happened, abandoned towns, roads and railways ended up under water.

Today's low water level is revealing some interesting things from that bygone era - like the old railroad lines that used to run through the area. Tunnels and train trestles that are normally under about 100 feet of water are now visible.

Matt Starman, a brakeman with Yreka Western Railroad, had an obvious interest in seeing the old structures in person, so he took a boat out onto the lake to see for himself. 

"We first came to the south end of what's known as Tunnel 5," he said (Tunnel 5 is pictured above). "Currently, you can only see that by boat.  And we went up around the bend on the left side of the tunnel to where the truss bridges and the north end of the tunnel are."

Starman said he even went inside one of the tunnels - by raft.

"It wasn't as long as I originally thought it would be," he said.  "It was under a thousand feet long.  And the whole thing was concrete lined inside.  And 60 years under a lake - there was a lot of silt and moss lining it."

So what's the outlook for Shasta Lake in the next few months?  According to Harral, the lake's water shouldn't get any lower since summer is over.  And they normally do not have to release as much water from the dam this time of year.

Recreation on the Lake


Shannon L. Cheesman is a Portland-area Web Producer/Reporter who specializes in the outdoors. She writes and reports for Fisher Interactive Network, which consists of 13 local news/information Web sites in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California.