Drought— an extended period of limited or no precipitation— is a fact of life in California and the West, with water resources following boom-and-bust patterns.
No portion of the West has been immune to drought during the last century and drought occurs with much greater frequency in the West than in other regions of the country.
Most of the West experiences what is classified as severe to extreme drought more than 10 percent of the time, and a significant portion of the region experiences severe to extreme drought more than 15 percent of the time, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center.
Experts who have studied recent droughts say a drought occurs about once every 10 years somewhere in the United States. Droughts are believed to be the most costly of all natural disasters because of their widespread effects on agriculture and related industries, as well as on urbanized areas. One of those decennial droughts could cost as much as $38 billion, according to one estimate.
Because droughts cannot be prevented, experts are looking for better ways to forecast them and new approaches to managing droughts when they occur.
Going, going, but not gone yet. About 47 percent of California still faces a drought, and the conditions are severe in 11 percent of the state, according to the most recent weekly report from the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Both drought and floodwaters are testing California’s aging water infrastructure. A new NASA analysis shows too much groundwater pumping during the drought has caused the California Aqueduct to sink more than two feet near Avenal in Kings County.
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows that less than 2 percent of California is still experiencing severe drought impacts, but that small area is concentrated in southern Santa Barbara County and parts of neighboring Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
A healthy snow pack and steady rain have offered a fresh outlook to over five years of drought in California but the State Water Resources Control Board is expected to extend emergency regulations due to water supply problems in areas such as the Central Coast.
California’s historic drought may be winding down. But water officials across the Golden State are increasingly exploring a hidden but promising way to add to the state’s water supply: removing salt from the billions of gallons of brackish — or distastefully salty — water that lies deep below the Earth’s surface.
Roaring storms that brought California almost a year’s worth of snow and rain in a single month should make state water managers’ Sierra snowpack survey Thursday a celebration, marking this winter’s dramatic retreat of the state’s more than 5-year-drought, water experts say.
The ponderosa pine had taken root decades before the Revolutionary War, making a stately stand on this western Sierra Nevada slope for some 300 years, Nate Stephenson figures. Then came the beetle blitzkrieg.
Governor Brown has released a proposed budget that reaffirms the state’s commitment to boosting drought resiliency and battling climate change. … Although state money represent only a fraction of California’s total water sector spending (13%—the rest is mostly locally funded), it is an important piece of the funding pie.
San Luis Reservoir west of Los Banos is on its way to filling for the first time since 2011 as rain and snow bring the state additional relief from a punishing drought. Statewide, a series of storms over the past two weeks have allowed water managers to fill major reservoirs to above-normal levels for this time of year.
Much of California has gone from withered to water-logged this winter, but the state’s top water regulator is not ready to lift emergency conservation measures enacted during the height of the drought. … Water districts have been lobbying the board to back down.
With storms drenching much of California and snow blanketing the Sierra Nevada, the state’s top water regulators are grappling with how to shift from conservation rules devised during more than five years of drought to a long-term strategy for using water more sustainably.
With major reservoirs nearly full, the Sierra Nevada snowpack well above average and flood warnings in place for some rivers, federal scientists reported Thursday a continued weakening of California’s drought. … Even as state officials urged caution, they announced Wednesday that cites [sic] and farms will receive at least 60 percent of the maximum amount of water they are contracted to buy in the coming year from the State Water Project, up from just 20 percent two months ago.
The worst area of drought in California has significantly narrowed to a small region northwest of Los Angeles that has stubbornly failed to benefit from Pacific storms that have drenched much of the state since the fall and were lining up again Wednesday.
Deluged with a series of relentless storms this winter, more than 40 percent of California — including the Bay Area — is no longer in a drought for the first time in four years, a stark turnaround after one of the worst natural disasters in state history, a new federal report said Thursday morning.
Rescue workers used boats and firetrucks to evacuate dozens of Northern California residents from their flooded homes Wednesday as a drought-busting series of storms began to move out of the region after days of heavy rain and snow that toppled trees and created havoc as far north as Portland, Oregon.
Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday released a $177.1 billion spending plan that contains funds for drought, water rights management, continuation of the statewide conservation program Save Our Water and other key water programs.
As a result of the nearly weeklong deluge, water is flowing into California lakes and reservoirs, prompting dam operators to release supplies in advance of a storm expected next week. But it’s too early to say if the series of storms is a drought-buster.
If the storm systems keep coming, state and regional water managers say, 2017 could be the end of a dry spell that has, for more than five years, caused crops to wither, reservoirs to run dry and homeowners to rip out their lawns and plant cactus.
The powerful storms that soaked Northern California over the past week did more than trigger power outages, mudslides and flash floods. … Officially, California’s drought won’t end until Gov. Jerry Brown rescinds or revises the emergency drought declaration he signed in January 2014.
A lull in a series of powerful winter storms gave Northern California a chance Monday to clean up from widespread flooding while also assessing how all that moisture is altering the state’s once-grim drought picture.
After many long years of waiting, California’s drought relief may finally be here. … Central California is on track to be the second wettest water year on record, and Southern California is expected to tie the wettest year, which was the year of ‘68-’69.
As much of the state heads into a sixth year of drought, water officials on Wednesday, Jan. 4, cheered Californians’ continued conservation while urging them to stay stingy with water after residential savings slipped below 19 percent in November.
The first manual survey this year of California’s snowpack revealed Tuesday that it holds about half as much water as normal, casting a shadow on the state that’s hoping to dodge a sixth straight year of drought, officials said.
Around the start of each year, California water officials make a big show out of measuring the Sierra Nevada snowpack for reporters. Tuesday’s measurement before a throng of cameras was fairly bleak: Water content in the snowpack stood at just 53 percent of average, about a third as much water as the same time last year at that site.
Surveyors will plunge poles into the Sierra Nevada snowpack near Lake Tahoe on Tuesday, taking the season’s first measurement by hand of the snow’s water content as California flirts with a sixth year of drought.
The federal government will be pouring nearly a quarter-billion dollars into several dozen projects aimed at tackling the effects of drought in the West and restoring watersheds that provide drinking water to communities around the nation.
President Barack Obama signed a bill Friday authorizing water projects across the country, including $170 million to address lead in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan, and $558 million to provide relief to drought-stricken California.
[Arizona] Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke is meeting with other Colorado River system users in Las Vegas at the annual Colorado River Water User Association Conference running through Dec. 16. … On Dec. 15, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell will unveil the program for management of the Colorado River between Lakes Powell and Mead.
When California water officials assess the drought, the first place they look is the northern Sierra Nevada mountains. Rain and snowmelt from the area feed into a complex system of rivers, canals and reservoirs that send water across the state.
Congress has approved a wide-ranging bill to authorize water projects across the country, including $170 million to address lead in Flint, Michigan’s drinking water and $558 million to provide relief to drought-stricken California.
California is working to put into place a framework that will help the state deal with its current water shortage, as well as future droughts that are likely to be more severe with a changing climate. “Making Water Conservation a Way of Life,” a draft report released last week, is the collective effort of five state agencies to fulfill Gov. Jerry Brown’s Executive Order B-37-16, signed in May 2016.
The water policy measure overwhelmingly passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday to build long-term water infrastructure across the Golden State is headed for a showdown with outgoing Sen. Barbara Boxer, who plans to mount a filibuster in the Senate on Friday as one of her final acts in Congress.
Despite a wet start to the fall in Northern California, nearly two-thirds of the state remains wracked by extreme drought. In the future, climate change is likely to make dry periods more frequent, more intense and longer.
Urban Californians used about 1.8 percent more water in October compared with a year earlier, state officials said Tuesday. It marked the fourth straight month in which conservation has slipped following the state’s decision to relax drought mandates.
House and Senate leaders reached agreement Monday on a bipartisan bill to authorize $170 million for Flint, Michigan, and other cities beleaguered by lead in drinking water, and to provide relief to drought-stricken California.
Now, if past weather patterns are fulfilled this year, experts say, Northern California’s winter — and long-term relief from years of drought — could be just around the corner for the state’s most important watershed.
California’s water regulators will start using aerial images to measure the green grass and irrigated landscapes of hundreds of communities across the state as part of a new long-term strategy to boost conservation.
California officials crafting a new conservation plan for the state’s dry future drew criticism from environmentalists on Thursday for failing to require more cutbacks of farmers, who use 80 percent of the water consumed by people.
In a series of proposals released Wednesday, state officials said they might require urban water districts seeking to avoid state conservation mandates to prove they have a five-year water supply on hand.
In a case that could have statewide ramifications, a group of multimillionaire Hillsborough residents, including an early funder of Microsoft, has sued the town claiming that its drought rules and penalties intended to keep people from over-watering big lawns are illegal.
In a preliminary outlook, the state Department of Water Resources said it can count on allocating as little as 20 percent of requested water supplies to start, hinting drought fears are far from over in California.
California’s Department of Water Resources has made its initial projection of how much water public agencies can count on receiving from the canals and pipelines of the State Water Project next year: 20 percent of their full allotments.
More than 102 million dead trees now litter California’s drought-flayed forests, according to the latest aerial survey, a finding likely to fuel a heated public-lands debate during the incoming Trump administration.
President-elect Donald Trump might have trouble living up to one of his more sweeping campaign promises in California. On the stump in Fresno last May, he made headlines for declaring, “There is no drought” here.
Wastewater recycling is being hailed in many communities as the answer to ongoing drought problems. By cleaning sewage effluent to extract pure water, it’s possible to create a sustainable water supply that is cheaper than seawater desalination or buying a new water supply. But there’s a little-recognized downside to water recycling: It may damage wildlife habitats already imperiled by water scarcity.
The number of dead trees in California’s drought-stricken forests has risen dramatically to more than 102 million in what officials described as an unparalleled ecological disaster that heightens the danger of massive wildfires and damaging erosion. … Scientists say five years of drought are to blame for much of the destruction.
Lake Cachuma, a giant reservoir built to hold Santa Barbara County’s drinking water, has all but vanished in California’s historic drought. It reached an all-time low this summer — 7 percent capacity, which left a thick beige watermark that circles the hills framing the lake like an enormous bathtub ring.
How low can the Colorado go? When will we get back to “normal” winters? Can we blame it all on climate change? To address some of these questions, the Colorado River Research Group recently released a concise four-page paper explaining how climate change is affecting the river.
If there is a positive outcome of five years of drought in California, it’s the lessons learned about how to manage water during a shortage in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. On the up-side, farmers got creative to cut back their water diversions by 32 percent through a volunteer program. On the learning-curve side, complex water rights confound who gets water during shortage.
California water agencies that spent more than $350 million in the last two years of drought to pay property owners to rip out water-slurping lawns are now trying to answer whether the nation’s biggest lawn removal experiment was all worth the cost.
The San Juan Water District’s especially steep backslide stood out as part of a statewide trend: With mandatory state restrictions lifted, the overwhelming majority of local suppliers saved less this summer, according to a Times analysis of state water data.
As the state enters its sixth year of drought, Northern California is seeing some significant relief thanks to a series of powerful storms, while Southern California remains mired in record dry conditions.
It might have been sprinkling outside the Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium on Tuesday, but inside the building some of the state’s brightest water experts were taking stock of California’s enduring drought. As we enter into what could be a sixth year of shortage, here are six lessons gleaned from Tuesday’s forum sponsored by the nonprofit Water Education Foundation:
As the rainy season begins in California, so too does the potential for dangerous flash flooding. … California agencies are using a new computer monitoring tool to understand ground conditions in real-time, including areas burned by wildfire.
Back-to-back bouts of rain that began Monday will make for an unusually wet week leading up to Halloween, said forecasters who are beginning to grow concerned about potential flooding this winter in fire-scorched areas.
As the days darken, all eyes are on the Sierra Nevada, then the sky, with a glance back at the mountains, to the Internet for forecast information, over to the thermometer — all in a fidgety search for a sign, any sign, that this winter will be wet.
For those with a financial stake in water, drought can mean boom or bust, depending on the investment. And even without a specific market to trade water, there are numerous ways to invest in it – from buying land with water rights to stocks in water-dependent companies to municipal bonds. Take Michael Burry, for instance, the hedge fund manager featured in the book and movie “The Big Short” who outsmarted the subprime housing market crash.
By any measure, California is confronting a complicated new chapter as it enters the sixth year of a drought that has forced it to balance huge demand for a sparse resource — water — from farmers, residents, municipalities and developers.
Forecasts are already showing a possibility of La Niña in our future, with the Climate Prediction Center for the National Weather Service rating our chances at about 70 percent. … La Niña was originally not in the cards as recently as early September, according to NOAA.
In a move that could have ramifications across the arid West, a government watchdog agency accused federal water regulators of wasting taxpayer funds when they gave Klamath Basin farmers more than $32 million to stop growing crops and to pump groundwater instead of drawing from lakes and rivers.
California’s drought has brought about a strange partnership that includes corporations like Coca-Cola and environmental groups like the Nature Conservancy. They’re partnering on projects aimed at helping increase water supply in California.
California has been trying to fill its reservoirs for 5 years, and it will get a little help from a storm expected to hit later this week. Right now, Lake Shasta is only at 60% capacity and Lake Oroville is at 44%, with other reservoirs across the state even lower.
Climate change from human activity nearly doubled the area that burned in forest fires in the American West over the past 30 years, a major new scientific study has found, and larger, more intense fires are all but guaranteed in the years ahead.
Four years into the drought, bark beetles did what was expected of them in the conifer woods of Tuolumne County. They bored into the trunks of moisture-stressed pines, cutting off the trees’ nutrient flow.
Wildfires in California and across the West have become twice as destructive over the past three decades due to climate change, taking a toll that will only continue to escalate, according to research published Monday.
Californians continued to backslide on water conservation during the hottest summer on record, worrying regulators and frustrating environmentalists critical of a new policy enacted this spring that allows most urban water districts to avoid mandatory cuts in water use.
Californians’ water conservation slipped for the third consecutive month in August, prompting new alarm from regulators about whether relaxed water restrictions may be causing residents to revert to old habits as the state enters its sixth year of severe drought.
Already dealing with parched conditions, the U.S. Southwest faces the threat of megadroughts this century as temperatures rise, says a new study that found the risk is reduced if heat-trapping gases are curbed.
Californians conserved about a third less water in August than a year earlier, state regulators announced Wednesday, evidence that the decision to ease up on conservation mandates caused some to revert to old habits.
Devastating wildfires like the giant that is still chewing through Big Sur are driving the nation’s firefighting costs to unprecedented levels, prompting the Obama administration to say the government is ill-equipped to handle the increasingly busy fire seasons of the historically dry West.
The end of September meant both the end of the 2016 water year and a deadline for signing new legislation. In the past few weeks California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bevy of new bills into law, many of them addressing drought or water issues in the state.
After the state entered into its sixth year of drought on Saturday, Humboldt County walked away with its best rainfall total in the last five years. … A year ago at this time, the Eel River was approaching record low flow levels with salmon showing alarming signs of blindness and lethargy as they waited for heavy rains.
The Loma fire is one of 9 major active blazes burning across California, after a record-breaking heatwave last week and a weather phenomenon known as the Santa Ana wind, which brings hot, dusty air sweeping across the already-desiccated landscape of drought-ridden Southern California.
Who’s the homeowner who managed to use 11.8-million gallons of water in a single year? The city isn’t naming names, but the Center for Investigative Reporting has narrowed down the list to seven likely suspects.
Los Angeles officials have steadfastly refused to identify the Wet Prince of Bel Air, the homeowner who pumped an astonishing 11.8 million gallons of water during a single year of California’s crippling drought.
California’s five-year drought created ideal conditions for brewing toxic levels of the naturally occurring bacteria, which multiplies rapidly in hot temperatures, low water flows and stagnant water choked with fertilizers and nutrients.
In a move that foreshadows sweeping statewide reductions in the amount of river water available for human needs, California regulators on Thursday proposed a stark set of cutbacks to cities and farms that receive water from the San Joaquin River and its tributaries.
As Southern California firefighters battled the Blue Cut Fire last month, there was nothing they could do to fend off an unfortunate reality: Global warming is already lengthening wildfire season and increasing the likelihood of extreme fires across the West.
So far this 4,636 wildfires in California have burned more than 200,000 acres. That’s more fires than this time last year and more fires than the five-year average. … California has an added challenge of dealing with a five-year drought.
[Sen. Dianne] Feinstein asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to shift $38 million in the Department’s budget to pay for removing trees from federal land identified by the California Governor’s Tree Mortality Task Force.
Years of drought have sapped California’s water supply, creating an accumulated deficit exacerbated by increasingly warmer temperatures, a top researcher said at a recent briefing.
Michael Dettinger, research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said parts of California have fallen more than two years behind where they should be in terms of receiving “normal” precipitation. The situation augurs what would be expected under projected climate change conditions as average annual temperatures warm and the snow level declines.
La Niña may not happen after all. Federal climate scientists on Thursday dialed back their forecast for the influential weather pattern that is sometimes associated with dry years in parts of the Americas, including California — where another winter of scant rain could wreak havoc on the drought-plagued state.
Statewide water conservation numbers dropped again in July, the second month of the state’s new, relaxed plan to save water during a record drought. Californians used 20 percent less water in July as compared to the same month in 2013, state water officials reported Wednesday.
A hydrograph illustrates a type of activity of water during a specific time frame. Salinity and acidity are sometimes measured, but the most common types are stage and discharge hydrographs. These graphs show how surface water flow responds to fluxes in precipitation.
Locked in a multi-year drought, California’s urban water suppliers have, for the most part, happily enforced rules that prohibit specific wasteful water practices, such as hosing down driveways and over-watering lawns.
Lake Powell has been called “Jewel of the Colorado” by the federal agency that built it, the Bureau of Reclamation. It’s been a vital force for the intermountain West because of its ability to store vast amounts of water and generate electricity for farmers, cities and towns in 13 states.
Five years of drought have severely taxed California’s rivers, reservoirs and groundwater. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta – the hub of California’s water supply, an agricultural center and a crucial ecological resource – hasn’t been immune from the impacts of the prolonged drought.
At this free one-day briefing in Stockton on Oct. 25, keynote speaker Jay Lund, Director of the UC Center for Watershed Sciences, and other experts will discuss the drought’s effects on the Delta.
Other confirmed speakers include Delta Watermaster Michael Patrick George, Michelle Banonis, Manager of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Bay-Delta Office, Michael Dettinger, senior scientist and research hydrologist at USGS, and Peter Moyle, one of the foremost experts on California’s freshwater fish.
Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium
525 N. Center Street
A law signed late Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown requires retail urban water suppliers with more than 3,000 customers to put in place rules that define “excessive water use” and impose them during drought emergencies.
Farm revenue in California dropped by more than $9 billion last year as the drought forced farmers to scramble for water and crucial commodities declined in price, according to data released by the state and federal governments Tuesday.
At the height of California’s fierce wildfire season, the Sierra Nevada and North Coast forests are choked with tens of millions of dead and dying trees, from gnarly oaks to elegant pines that are turning leafy chapels into tinderboxes of highly combustible debris.
The Bureau of Reclamation released water from the Trinity Reservoir early Thursday morning to the lower Klamath River to help prevent the spread a parasitic fish disease, within Chinook salmon. Supplemental flows from the Lewiston Dam will also extend into late September to protect the fall salmon run.
Ill-timed releases from New Melones Reservoir led to a 75 percent drop in rainbow trout on the lower Stanislaus River last year, according to two water purveyors that could have used some of the supply.
The drought has consequences for human health, both physical and emotional. One study in Tulare County recently attempted to quantify these effects via door-to-door polling. This was one survey in two small communities. Now Kurt Schwabe at the University of California Riverside plans a statewide study to assess the drought’s effect on human health.
California’s iconic natural features, from salmon runs to Joshua trees, could dwindle or disappear, as climate change rearranges the state’s weather patterns and landscape, leaving much of the state hotter and drier, scientists warn.
A measure to expand public disclosure of commercial, industrial and other institutional water uses in California fell far short of passage in the state Senate on Friday. … Another bill this year also sought more disclosure as part of a “drought-shaming” campaign to discourage excessive water use.
Despite previous vows of close monitoring, State Water Resources Control Board leaders said they expect independent researchers – such as environmental groups, journalists and other members of the public – to scrutinize water suppliers’ data that the board posted online Tuesday.
Under fire from water agencies who were losing millions of dollars in lost water sales, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration two months ago dropped all mandatory water conservation targets and allowed cities, water districts and private water companies across the state to set their own targets.
State officials will not force most California water districts to reduce water use this year, even as they caution that the five-year drought persists and note that drought-fueled wildfires continue to wreak havoc.
The ferocious spread of the Clayton fire offers fresh evidence of how five years of unrelenting drought in California leave the state particularly vulnerable to destructive wildfires this year. Wildfires this year have already burned more than 360 square miles and destroyed more than 400 homes and other structures.
While Lake County has suffered more than its share of devastation in the last 12 months from wildfires, this weekend’s destructive Clayton Fire has been one of the few blazes to cause major damage in Northern California this fire season.
Surrounded by barren brown hills and cracked, dry clay, San Luis Reservoir was so empty this week that the nearly milelong, meandering path from the old high-water mark to the waterline could have doubled as a set in the post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” film franchise.
Robert Haskins walked across a vast expanse of cracked mud, littered with old beer bottles and millions of tiny clam shells, that in most Augusts would be 50 feet underwater. But the San Luis Reservoir, the vast inland sea along Highway 152 that is a key part of Silicon Valley’s water supply, is only 10 percent full, its lowest level in 27 years.
State leaders are paying attention. Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency. More than 80 federal, state and local agencies, electric utilities and other organizations have formed the Tree Mortality Task Force, co-chaired by Pimlott, to combat the problem.
Californians are continuing to save significant amounts of water despite the decision by Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration to relax drought rules two months ago. Statewide, urban residents cut water use 21.5 percent in June, compared with the same month in 2013, the year the state has been using as a baseline, according to new data released Tuesday.
In a paper published Monday in Geophysical Research Letters University of Southern California post-doctoral research associate Pouya Vahmani and USC civil and environmental engineering professor George Ban-Weiss analyze what would happen to the city’s overall temperature during the month of July if every lawn was replaced with drought-tolerant plants.
It might not be what you expect to hear about California agriculture in the throes of drought: After four years of historic water shortages, farm earnings in the state increased 16 percent, and total employment increased 5 percent. Yet those are real numbers gathered by federal agencies that track economic data.
The leaves atop giant sequoias in the Sierra Nevada are better at storing water than those closer to the ground, an adaptation that may explain how their treetops are able to survive 300 feet in the air, researchers at American River College and Humboldt State University have found.
Tribes are apprehensive, cities are more upbeat and farmers stand somewhere in between over a proposed plan to cut CAP water deliveries to keep Lake Mead from falling to dangerously low levels. … The drought-contingency plan is being discussed by Arizona, California and Nevada as a way to avert catastrophic cuts later.
A poll by the Public Policy Institute of California shows, despite a partisan divide, 62 percent of likely voters favor the law [AB 32]. … The poll also found that water supply and drought remain the top environmental concern for Californians.
California wildfires often become massive infernos that destroy lives and livelihoods, especially during the summer and fall months. Because of a drought that has persisted since 2012, the fire season seems to be expanding, with some fires even occurring during the winter months.
State Water Resources Control Board officials issued a warning last week for the North Coast, noting that high temperatures and continuing drought conditions increase the likelihood of potentially lethal algal blooms in area streams, rivers and lakes.
Thousands of firefighters were battling wildfires on Monday in central and Southern California that have burned through nearly 50,000 acres and prompted thousands of people to evacuate their homes, the authorities said.