In this video, Don Cheadle takes an aerial tour of one of California’s drought-stricken landscapes—a disappearing reservoir called Folsom Lake. Flying with him is Felicia Marcus, the state’s top water official, who explains that four years of drought and no snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains have severely depleted the reservoir, one of the state’s main water supplies.

“This is absolutely what our future looks like under climate change,” Marcus states.

Find more of this story in the episode titled “Uprooted,” part of the National Geographic Channel’s Years of Living Dangerously series. 

In 2016, California took the lead among U.S. states in addressing climate change by extending legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Targeting both power plants and vehicles, the state committed to the goal of curbing carbon emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Laws passed in 2006 had already set targets to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Together, California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, took a message about fighting climate change to the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015. Brown also helped design an effort urging leaders of states, cities, and provinces around the world to commit to standards beyond what national leaders would adopt.


California, and most western states, rely heavily on snowpack each winter to resupply surface water streams and lakes. Lack of winter storms and warmer temperatures results in low snowmelt levels and depleted water supplies.


period of greatly reduced precipitation.


discharge or release.


the geographic features of a region.


natural or man-made lake.


layers of snow that naturally build up during snowfalls.