This page is a resource for all things drought – where you
can find real-time reservoir levels, drought severity
maps, special reports, a newsfeed of current
developments on the drought that began in 2020 and general
background on droughts in California and the West, as well as
answers to common drought questions and tips for how you can save
water at home.
What is Drought?
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.
During California’s 2012-2016 drought, much of the state
experienced severe drought conditions: significantly less
precipitation and snowpack, reduced streamflow and higher
temperatures. Those same conditions reappeared early in 2021,
prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom in May to declare drought emergencies
in watersheds across 41 counties in California.
California is no stranger to drought. When conditions become dry,
water storage declines and water conservation mandates make news
headlines; questions from the public often surface about what
appear to be easy solutions to augment the state’s water supply.
But the answers can be complicated and, in the end, there is no
silver bullet to ensure a resilient water supply, especially
We explore “frequently asked questions” often posed by the public
and provide answers below. Simply click on the question for the
answer to appear.
Some people in California and across
the West struggle to access safe, reliable and affordable water
to meet their everyday needs for drinking, cooking and
sanitation. In some cases, people are left without water as wells
run dry in the midst of drought, or have little to no access at
all to running water. Communities of color are most often
burdened by these challenges.
The Water Education Foundation has put together a list of
resources and background information to keep you informed about
issues of water equity in California and the West.
Looking for more information about water resources and COVID-19?
The Water Education Foundation has put together a list of
resources and background information to keep you updated.
What You Need to Know about Water and COVID-19:
TAP WATER: California’s safe drinking water
standards require a multistep treatment process that includes
filtration and disinfection. This process removes and kills
viruses, including coronaviruses such as COVID-19, as well as
bacteria and other pathogens. Read our Aquapedia page on water
treatmentfor more information.
California has been called the most
hydrologically altered landmass on the planet, and it is true.
Today the state bears little resemblance to its former self.
Where deserts and grasslands once prevailed, now reservoirs store
water to move it to the arid land. Swampy marshes have given way
to landfill for urban development. Wetlands have been converted to
farmland. California’s water resources now support 35 million
people and irrigate more than 5.68 million acres of farmland.
California has a history of
multi-year droughts and periodic years of abundant rain. The
state’s Mediterranean climate means there is a short window for
the rainy season. A robust Sierra Nevada snowpack is critical
in helping to meet water demands during the long, hot
summer. Severe drought occurred in the late 1970s, the late 1980s
and the late 2000s.
Watersheds are all around us. You’re sitting or standing in one
A watershed is more than just a piece of land that water flows
through. It is a place where people and animals live, and plants
and trees grow. All life is dependent on a healthy watershed.
Without watersheds, we wouldn’t have water for farms, cities,
wildlife, recreation – everything!
The slideshow is packed full of useful information and
photographs, maps and web links to help you explore each topic
Salt. In the right amount, it’s a gift from nature. Our bodies
need some salt to absorb water and, basically, to survive. But
any doctor will tell you, if you take in too much salt, you’ll
start to have health problems. A similar negative effect is
happening in California and is particularly obvious in the
Excess salinity poses a growing threat to food production,
drinking water quality and public health. Salts increase the cost
of urban drinking water and wastewater treatment, which are paid
for by residents and businesses.
The 1,440-mile-long Colorado River passes through parts of seven states, several Indian reservations and into Mexico. Since the river was first tapped by humans 1,500 years ago, the water has been claimed, reclaimed, divided and subdivided many times.
Today, there are many demands for Colorado River water: Agriculture and Livestock, Municipal and Industrial, Recreation, Fish/Wildlife and Habitat, Hydroelectricity, Tribes and Mexico.
More water is exported from the Colorado River’s 250,000 square-mile basin than from any other river basin in the world. Every drop of its average 5 trillion gallons of water is used each year. In fact, the river often runs dry before it reaches its final destination at the Sea of Cortez in Mexico because of use by the United States and Mexico. There’s no doubt: All the competing demands for the water make it one of the most controlled and controversial rivers in the United States.
Watersheds are all around us. You’re sitting or standing in one right now.
A watershed is more than just a piece of land that water flows through. It is a place where people and animals live, and plants and trees grow. All life is dependent on a healthy watershed. Without watersheds, we wouldn’t have water for farms, cities, wildlife, recreation – everything!
The slideshow is packed full of useful information and photographs, maps and web links to help you explore each topic further.
What you will learn:
How watersheds function and how their overall health impacts all life around it
What issues threaten watersheds: Land-based pollutants, recreation, development, water quality, high-intensity fire and unhealthy forests
What’s being done through watershed management to ensure watershed health is maintained and improved
Where individual projects all over California are making a real difference
How you can locate the watershed in your area and get involved.
State Water Project Slideshow
This full-color slideshow, entitled “The State Water Project: Connecting California’s Water,” pays tribute to California’s State Water Project (SWP), celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2010.
The slideshow highlights the historical value of the SWP to the daily lives of Californians. In total, the SWP provides drinking water for 25 million people and irrigation water for more than 750,000 farmland acres. In 2001, the American Society of Civil Engineers selected the SWP as one of the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century.