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.
A new report warns Kern County agriculture will face tough
challenges in the decades ahead as climate change makes
irrigation water scarcer and weather conditions more variable
and intense. The study concludes these hurdles “ultimately
challenge the ability to maximize production while ensuring
As the United States moves into the last weeks of
climatological summer, one- third of the country is
experiencing at least a moderate level of drought. Much of the
West is approaching severe drought, and New England has been
unusually dry and hot. An estimated 53 million people are
living in drought-affected areas.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is expected to release
projections Friday that suggest Lake Powell and Lake Mead will
dip slightly in 2021. … Despite the dip, Lake Mead’s levels
are expected to stay above the threshold that triggers
mandatory water cuts to Arizona and Nevada, giving officials
throughout the Southwest more time to prepare for a future when
the flow will slow.
Within as little as 50 years, many regions of the United States
could see their freshwater supply reduced by as much as a
third, warn scientists. … Shortages won’t affect only the
regions we’d expect to be dry: With as many as 96 out of 204
basins in trouble, water shortages would impact most of the
U.S., including the central and southern Great Plains, the
Southwest, central Rocky Mountain states, as well as parts of
Water-efficient succulents and nitrogen-fixing tree legumes may
take five to 12 years to produce their first nutritional
harvests. Nevertheless, they can produce more edible biomass
over a decade with far less water than that used by
conventional annual crops, while sequestering carbon into the
soil to mitigate climate change…
Human-caused global warming is increasing drought risk across
much of the United States as rising temperatures accelerate
evaporation, increase water uptake by heat-parched plants, and
reduce the amount of winter snowpack available to refresh
regions during dry summer months.
Completion of groundwater sustainability plans for California’s
most over-pumped basins was a major step toward bringing basins
into long-term balance, as mandated by the Sustainable
Groundwater Management Act. We talked to Trevor Joseph—the
first SGMA employee at the Department of Water Resources, and
now a member of a groundwater sustainability agency in the
Sacramento Valley—about next steps and possible pitfalls.
By the 2070s, global warming will increase extreme rainfall and
reduce snowfall in the Sierra Nevada, delivering a double
whammy that will likely overwhelm California’s reservoirs and
heighten the risk of flooding in much of the state, according
to a new study by UCLA climate scientists.
Recent conditions across California over the past 3-5 weeks
have been pretty typical by mid-summer standards. …
California’s boon, however, has been Arizona’s misfortune: a
near-total failure of the North American Monsoon…
The loss in hydroelectric generation during the 2012-16 drought
cost PG&E and other California utilities about $5.5
billion, a new study says. As California’s climate becomes more
prone to severe droughts, the findings point to future costs
that utilities — and ultimately ratepayers — will likely be
forced to bear.
People hoping to get a handle on future droughts in the
American West are in for a disappointment, as new University of
Southern California-led research shows El Niño cycles are an
unreliable predictor. Instead, they found that Earth’s dynamic
atmosphere is a wild card that plays a much bigger role than
sea surface temperatures, yet defies predictability, in the wet
and dry cycles that whipsaw the western states.
We deserve complete, dependable information and accurate cost
data including well-reasoned analysis that demonstrates the
need and economic viability of the pipeline. Instead, studies
by the Utah Division of Water Resources and the Washington
County Water Conservancy District are biased, incomplete and do
not fairly consider feasible, much less costly alternatives.
This cluster of counties on Colorado’s Western Slope — along
with three counties just across the border in eastern Utah —
has warmed more than 2 degrees Celsius, double the global
average. Spanning more than 30,000 square miles, it is the
largest 2C hot spot in the Lower 48, a Washington Post analysis
found. … The average flow of the Colorado River has declined
nearly 20 percent over the past century, half of which is
because of warming temperatures, scientists say.
Hot and dry conditions pushed portions of Arizona, southern
Nevada and Southern California either into drought or further
into drought, data from the U.S. Drought monitor show. … The
North American Monsoon, which provides about half of the annual
rainfall in parts of the Southwest, has been a “nonsoon” this
year … The portion of California deemed abnormally
dry grew by almost 7%, mainly in eastern San Bernardino
In California, many of the wildfires occur in the Sierra Nevada
mountains, which are the source of 70% of California’s water
resources. Understanding the feedbacks and implications of
disturbances on the hydrological cycle can help watershed
managers plan for future scenarios with wildfires and climate
The Santa Barbara City Council unanimously passed a motion
Tuesday to introduce and subsequently adopt an ordinance
authorizing a grant funding agreement with the State Department
of Water Resources in the amount of $10 million for
reactivation of the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant.
Failure to account for the long-term trend of declining per
capita water demand has led to routine overestimation of future
water demand. This can lead to unnecessary and costly
investment in unneeded infrastructure and new sources of
supply, higher costs, and adverse environmental impacts.
As Poseidon Water pursues the final government approvals needed
to build one of the country’s biggest seawater desalination
plants, the company still cannot definitively say who will buy
the 50 million gallons a day of drinking water it wants to
produce on the Orange County coast. That’s one of several
questions that continue to dog the $1-billion Huntington Beach
Crops require water to grow. By importing water-intensive
crops, countries essentially bring in a natural resource in the
form of virtual water. Agricultural virtual water is the amount
of water needed to grow a particular crop in a given region.
Now research led by scientists at PNNL has projected that the
volume of virtual water traded globally could triple by the end
of the century.
The Santa Barbara City Council voted 7-0 on Tuesday to accept a
$10 million grant — with the understanding that it will run the
plant at full capacity for at least 36 out of the next 40
years. Some environmentalists objected to the council’s
decision, citing environmental concerns.
The Program on Water in the West at Stanford University is
pleased to announce that Felicia Marcus, a preeminent water
policy expert and the previous chair of the California State
Water Resources Control Board, is joining the program as this
year’s William C. Landreth Visiting Fellow.
Regional water board member Kris Murray is on track later this
week to vote on a controversial desalination plant sponsored by
a company and interest groups she took money from during past
Environmental engineers at the University of California, Irvine
have developed a new framework for characterizing snow droughts
around the world. Using this tool to analyze conditions from
1980 to 2018, the researchers found a 28-percent increase in
the length of intensified snow-water deficits in the Western
United States during the second half of the study period.
New research suggests these living crusts — an amalgamation of
mosses, lichens, cyanobacteria and other kinds of microscopic
organisms, including bacteria and fungi — have a significant
influence on the ability of drylands to hold water.
Droughts are common in California. The drought of 2012-2016 had
no less precipitation and was no longer than previous
historical droughts, but came with record high temperatures and
low snowpack, which worsened many drought impacts.
Poseidon Resources wants to build a $1.4 billion desalination
plant near a power plant that is about to be shut down. They
say it could produce 50 million gallons of water per day,
enough for about 100,000 Orange County homes. Friday marked the
second day of hearings before the Santa Ana Regional Water
Quality Control Board. Its approval is needed for the plant to
discharge salty brine left over from the treated water.
The district’s spring groundwater monitoring program, using 55
public and private wells, found that the levels rose 3-to-18
feet in each storage area of the basin since last year. That’s
progress, but still far below historic wet weather levels,
groundwater specialist Nick Kunstek said.
The water level at Folsom Lake is dropping by nearly half a
foot each day, and soon boaters who rent a slip at Folsom Lake
Marina will have pull their boats out. Marina managers told the
tenants they should plan on removing their boats from the water
by around Aug. 16…
The newly passed Drought Contingency Plan spurred additional
conservation and left more water in the lake. An unusually wet
year also helped, because it allowed states to fall back on
other supplies. But the fundamental problem remains: The river
still isn’t producing the amount of water we use in a typical
year. We’re still draining the mighty Colorado.
After hearings this week for one of two remaining major permits
needed for the project, several members of the Regional Water
Quality Control Board indicated they were dissatisfied with the
proposed mitigation for the larvae and other small marine life
that would die as a result of the plant’s ocean intake pipes.
The average annual flow of the Colorado River has decreased 19
percent compared to its 20th century average. Models predict
that by 2100, the river flow could fall as much as 55 percent.
The Colorado River, and the people it sustains, are in serious
All the static and dynamic forces from the land and rock above
start adding up and eventually that now-dry soil starts
compacting down and down. While this may not seem like a big
deal on a small scale, what we’ve seen in California (and other
parts of the world too) is the dropping of the surface
elevation over a period of years, often by hundreds of feet or
The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority’s notice of an
upcoming public hearing on a basin replenishment fee has
attracted a lot of attention from water users in the valley,
but not everyone understands what the IWVGA is.
The Bishop Paiute Tribe is experiencing low water pressure
reservation wide due to high water usage and minimal storage
and pumping capacity. … With temperatures rising, and more
community members staying home due to the COVID-19 pandemic,
water usage has gone up significantly.
Water is a big deal in California, and climate change is
threatening the precious resource. That’s why Gov. Gavin Newsom
finalized a broad plan this week to help prevent future water
challenges … The Water Resilience Portfolio outlines 142
actions the state could take to build resilience as the effects
of warming temperatures grow.
Following the Imperial Irrigation District’s recent win on a
monumental water case in California’s appellate court against
Michael Abatti, the water district is back in court filing the
opening brief against the other large water district is
Southern California, the Metropolitan Water District.
Last rainfall season was a big one for the Central and South
Coasts, with above average rainfall for many drought impacted
local communities. … But, could we be headed back to a
drought year? There are some early indications it’s a
possibility, with a nearly 50-50 chance of us being impacted by
a “La Niña” pattern of cooler ocean water in the Western
District Superintendent Ryan Rhoades reported that conditions
have not changed and that the district remains in a Stage 4
drought. He commended the community for their cooperation by
reducing their water use. Customers should strive for 50
gallons per person per day and cut overall use by at least 40
percent, he said.
Demonstrators in northern Mexico have burned several government
vehicles, blocked railway tracks and set afire a government
office and highway tollbooths to protest water payments to the
Visalia’s groundwater has sunk by 7 feet since April, just one
month into the summer season, and it’s not because people are
home washing their hands more frequently and doing their dishes
more often. … At its July 20 meeting, the City Council
approved moving the city from Stage 1, its least stringent
level of its water conservation ordinance, to Stage 3, just one
level short of declaring a water emergency.
Gov. Gavin Newsom released strategies Tuesday to improve
drinking water quality, revive a stalled multibillion-dollar
tunnel and build new dams. Newsom says the sweeping water
portfolio will help the Golden State prepare for global warming
by reinforcing outdated water infrastructure and reducing the
state’s reliance on groundwater during future droughts.
Poseidon Water’s seawater desalination plant in Huntington
Beach, first proposed in 1998, could be getting closer to
beginning construction after more than two decades. The Santa
Ana Regional Water Board will hold online hearings this week
and decide whether to issue Poseidon a permit.
NOAA has issued a La Nina Watch, which means a dry winter and
longer fire season are possible this year for Southern
California. This stems from colder water along the equator in
the Pacific which has a domino effect on other parts of the
After more than 20 years of developing plans for a Huntington
Beach desalination plant and winding its way through a
seemingly endless bureaucratic approval process, Poseidon Water
comes to a key juncture as the Regional Water Quality Control
Board votes on whether to grant a permit after hearings this
Zone 7 Water Agency directors authorized General Manager
Valerie Pryor to negotiate an agreement with Napa County’s
water division to buy some of its surplus water this year — a
move that could open doors for similar deals in the future. A
need to meet local water demand for the next few years prompted
Zone 7 to act at its regular meeting July 16.
The Third Appellate District has ruled that the State Water
Resources Control Board has the authority to issue temporary
emergency regulations and curtailment orders which establish
minimum flow requirements, regulate unreasonable use of water,
and protect threatened fish species during drought conditions.
More than 50,000 ducklings and other newborn waterfowl and
shorebirds were saved from certain deaths this week after an
emergency delivery of water to the Klamath Basin National
Wildlife Refuge, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
The state of California, long derided for its failure to act in
the past, says it is now moving full-bore to address the Salton
Sea’s problems, with ambitious plans for wildlife habitat
expansion and dust suppression.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a La
Niña watch earlier this month, meaning that conditions are
favorable for development of a La Niña in the next six months.
A La Niña typically means a dry winter across the southern
United States, including Southern California.
With state and federal administrations fighting in court about
delta water operations—and with a pandemic and election year
both underway—work has slowed on voluntary agreements meant to
avoid severe cuts to northern San Joaquin Valley water
supplies. At issue is the first phase of a State Water
Resources Control Board plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin
Ceres Imaging, an Oakland-based startup company, is one of
several high-tech aerial monitoring companies helping
California farmers, including those in Kern County, increase
their production, while decreasing their demand for water. It
is a logical marriage between agriculture and innovators in
California’s Silicon Valley.
As part of a settlement reached with fishing and environmental
groups, the California State Water Resources Control Board says
it will increase transparency and conduct heightened
evaluations when deciding water quality standards and flow
limits for the state’s critical waterways. …
Environmentalists celebrated the deal as a “landmark
settlement” that stands to boost protections for fish by
improving water quality in the Sacramento River and the San
Public support for proposed desalination plants in Huntington
Beach and Dana Point appears strong in two recent polls,
although opponents call the surveys biased and say neither poll
addresses key obstacles facing these very different projects.
“We believe olives are California’s crop of the future,” said
Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center.
“Because as the water supply tightens up, either through state
policy or extended drought periods, we’re seeing a longer,
warmer season — olives are really well-suited to manage that
more than other crops…”
Da Yang, an atmospheric scientist at UC Davis and his
co-authors predict the entire West Coast will experience
greater month-to-month fluctuations in extremely dry and wet
weather, especially in California. The study explores the
Madden-Julian oscillation (MJO), an atmospheric phenomenon that
influences rainfall in the tropics…
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman says
she’d like to see more cooperation from California officials as
talks aim to resolve a legal dispute over competing biological
opinions governing the management of their respective water
The Imperial Irrigation District has filed its opening brief in
a case against the Metropolitan Water District of Southern
California that it launched last year in an attempt to halt the
implementation of the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan for
the Colorado River. IID wants to see it paused until the Salton
Sea is also considered.
On a hot June evening, UC Merced Professor Josh Viers joined
farm advocate and small farmer Tom Willey on his front porch
near Fresno to talk about California’s water, disadvantaged
communities, agricultural production and the future as part of
the new “Down on the Farm” podcast that’s now available for all
To live in Colorado is to know drought. Since 2000, there has
been only one month-plus-long period (from late May to mid July
of 2019) when no drought has been desiccating the earth here.
Other than that, at least one part of the state has been in a
perpetual state of crisp.
Sustainability plans developed by groundwater sustainability
agencies outline how water users can restore depleted water
sources. But fights have arisen and disputes about the
reliability of those water sources have come to light.
To those who opposed the dam, Glen Canyon Dam’s history reads
like an obituary about the loss of an incomparable sandstone
and water wonderland… Those on the other side of the issue
feel the dam has improved Glen Canyon – now providing greater
access to its breathtaking contrast of towering crimson
sandstone walls and vast expanses of crystal blue water.
The large and rapid variations in rainfall recorded in the LSC
stalagmites demonstrate that climate in Northern California is
sensitive to changes happening elsewhere in the world, and that
rainfall in this area may be capable of increasing or
decreasing in response to relatively small changes in global
With support from EDF, four UC Santa Barbara graduate students
have developed a new mapping tool for California’s Central
Valley to identify the best locations for groundwater recharge
to secure these bonus benefits. The tool, called Recharge for
Resilience, is available online and also can be downloaded by
users with more technical expertise.
In five decades of public service Phil Isenberg has served as
mayor of Sacramento, a member of the Assembly, a lobbyist,
chairs of the Marine Life Protection Blue Ribbon Task Force,
the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force, and, until 2016, the
Delta Stewardship Council. … In a two-part oral history with
Chris Austin, editor of Maven’s Notebook, Isenberg details the
myths and complexities of California water politics.
The federal Climate Prediction Center issued a La Nina watch
Thursday, indicating the odds favor the Pacific Ocean cooling
in the next six months and enhancing the chances for a cold and
wet upcoming winter in the Northwest.
Imperial Irrigation District made the first notable follow-up
to its petition to hit the brakes on the Lower Basin Drought
Contingency Plan for the Colorado River with an opening brief
Researchers in the Grand Canyon now spend weeks at a time,
several times a year, monitoring humpback chub, which has
become central to an ecosystem science program with
implications for millions of westerners who rely on Colorado
Here at 12,000 feet on the Continental Divide, only vestiges of
the winter snowpack remain, scattered white patches that have
yet to melt and feed the upper Colorado River, 50 miles away.
That’s normal for mid-June in the Rockies. What’s unusual this
year is the speed at which the snow went. And with it went
hopes for a drought-free year in the Southwest.
Tapan Pathak, University of California Cooperative Extension
specialist based at UC Merced, is doing applied research that
farmers and ranchers can use to adapt to new conditions created
by a variable and changing climate. “You don’t have to shift
your practice tomorrow, but if you are thinking of making a
30-year investment, it’s important to know what risks there are
for planting different crops,” said Pathak…
The streams and creeks that supply West Marin are running low
after the extraordinarily dry winter, and local water system
managers are sounding the alarm. The Bolinas Community Public
Utility District and North Marin Water District have already
imposed water-use reductions, and the Inverness Public Utility
District may do so later this month.
In a recent study published in Environmental Research Letters,
a National Science Foundation-funded team led by a researcher
from North Carolina State University analyzed the effects of a
drought in California. The drought happened from 2012-2016 and
was one of the worst in the state’s history. The scientists
found that drought led to significant increases in power costs
for three major utilities in the state.
Headwater forests are critical to California’s water supply, a
fact made plain by recent state funding
decisions…California’s water storage is concentrated in the
alpine snowpack that accumulates during the wet season and
releases water during the dry months. That snowpack is in
Before the end of 2026, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior will
develop new guidelines for the long-term management of
the Colorado River system. The seven Colorado River Basin
States are expected to play a leading role in the process to
develop those new guidelines. The process will take many
years and require multiple levels of discussion, negotiation
and coordination within Arizona and among the Basin states.
For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models
from the world’s top climate modeling groups have been “running
hot” – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme
than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been
confounding scientists because it challenges decades of
If you want to know what climate change means for California’s
water supply, consider the last two Februaries. In 126 years of
statewide record-keeping, you can’t find a drier February than
the one we just experienced. But February 2019 was the third
wettest on record. The extremes underscore how global warming
is exaggerating the year-to-year swings in California
precipitation, which is naturally the most variable in the
Signing off on a historic deal with its wealthiest — and
thirstiest — neighbor, the Santa Barbara City Council voted 6-0
to ship a supply of the city’s drinking water to Montecito
every year for the next 50 years, rain or shine.
Members of Oregon’s Congressional delegation announced that the
U.S. Senate has passed a “critically needed fix” to existing
law intended to provide drought relief for farmers and ranchers
in the Klamath Basin.
A major water source for the Valley is considerably more
drought resistant than previously thought. New research shows
the water that flows into the Salt and Verde rivers is four
times less sensitive to climate change than the Colorado River.
Experts are predicting another serious drought for California
and the western United States this summer, going as far to
portend a rare “megadrought.” Diminishing snow cover and an
extremely dry winter in the north are stoking fears and leaving
policymakers, farmers, businesses and residents looking for
urgent solutions. On the other side of the globe, Chile is in
the midst of its own 11-year megadrought.
We are preparing now for the tougher negotiations that lie
ahead to develop new operating rules for the Colorado River.
Last week, Arizona’s water community began work preparing our
state’s vision of what Colorado River management should look
like after the current set of rules expire in a little more
than six years.
After years of crunching the numbers and looking at options for
reliable water supplies, the Montectio Water District is
connecting to nearby Santa Barbara as part of its
“drought-proof” plan. It involves a multi-phased agreement to
insure an adequate supply of water for Montecito which, like
other South Coast communities, saw its storage and delivery
options dry up a few years ago after a prolonged period of
little or now rain.
On June 18, 2020, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed
the State Water Resources Control Board’s (“State Water Board”
or “Board”) authority to regulate what it deems to be an
unreasonable use of water, in this case through adoption of
emergency regulations establishing minimum instream flow
requirements to protect migration of threatened fish species
during drought conditions.
After several years of experimentation, scientists have
engineered thale cress, or Arabidopsis thaliana, to
behave like a succulent, improving water-use efficiency,
salinity tolerance and reducing the effects of drought. The
tissue succulence engineering method devised for this small
flowering plant can be used in other plants to improve drought
and salinity tolerance with the goal of moving this approach
into food and bioenergy crops.
While there are numerous factors that can lead to increased
wildfire risk, a growing body of scientific evidence finds that
climate change is a wildfire “threat multiplier,” amplifying
both natural and human risk factors. But how climate will
influence western communities and ecosystems varies
considerably. Two recent studies in California and the Pacific
Northwest help to bring some of this into better focus.
As the Salton Sea retreats, leaving the dry playa exposed, dust
particles become airborne and mobilize lung-damaging toxins
from agricultural runoff. Red Hill Bay, located near the
southeastern corner of the sea, would restore habitat by
flooding the area, but it’s one of several mitigation projects
that have taken flack for progressing so slowly.
The Delta is changing much faster than we can respond to, and
if we want to start to get ahead of things, we need to think
about what changes lie ahead and what managers and decision
makers will need to manage those changes. That was the topic
for the second Science Needs Workshop hosted by the Delta
Science Program which brought together Jennifer Pierre with the
State Water Contractors, Paul Souza with the US Fish and
Wildlife Service, and Campbell Ingram with the Delta
On June 18, 2020, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed
the lower court’s determination that the State Water Resources
Control Board lawfully adopted emergency regulations and
curtailment orders … in 2014 and 2015 during a period of
severe and persistent drought conditions.
It seems some are willing to wait forever for a new water
supply. After 25 years of failure, they still trust Cal Am to
come up with a solution. But the Monterey Peninsula Water
Management District is clearly done waiting. Last Monday, the
district board withdrew its support for Cal Am’s proposed desal
The water has made development possible and is used for farms,
homes and businesses. Meanwhile, recreation has risen to over 4
million annual visitors in Glen Canyon National Recreation
Area, with tourists bringing in over $420 million to local
communities. But climate scientists studying the Colorado River
find the lake’s water source is quickly declining.
The St. Helena City Council declared a Phase I water emergency
on Tuesday after a critically dry rainfall season. Phase I
prohibits customers from adding landscaping and appliances that
will increase water use, limits the watering of ornamental
landscapes or turf to two days a week, prohibits the use of
potable water to irrigate landscaping between 8 a.m. and 8
p.m., and imposes other conservation measures.
Local and state leaders are sounding the alarm to get the green
light to clear the Salinas Riverbed of dry brush and
vegetation. … This comes after a fire Monday in Paso Robles
which started in the riverbed and quickly moved into a
neighborhood destroying two homes and badly damaging nine
The Palmdale Water District has rebates to help customers who
would like to save water by converting their thirsty lawns into
water-wise landscaping. The District may provide up to $2,000
in cash rebates for replacing lawns with xeriscaping as part of
the 2020 Water-Wise Landscape Conversion Program
Water and the question of what constitutes its sustainable use
is becoming an increasingly important subject everywhere with
each passing year, but in few places is it more crucial than in
the Carrizo Planning Area of California Valley
Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, California, Utah, Wyoming and
Nevada have been operating under a set of guidelines approved
in 2007. Those guidelines and an overlapping drought
contingency plan will expire in 2026. Arizona water officials
are gathering Thursday to start talking about what comes next,
while other states have had more informal discussions.
Researchers at Stanford are working on a technology that may be
needed more than ever over the next decade, especially if new
predictions are accurate. … “To us, desalination is kind of
the wave of the future,” says Stanford researcher William
Tarpeh, Ph.D. Tarpeh and colleagues have been refining a
technology that could eventually make widespread desalination
cheaper, and safer for the environment.
A recent paper on climate change in California and the West has
been in the news and raising concerns. Based on extensive
analysis of tree ring data—a good measure of summer soil
moisture—the authors postulate that most of the region is in an
unfolding “megadrought” that began in 2000 and is the second
worst in the past 1,200 years. … If the state is in a
megadrought, it means a great deal. We should plan accordingly.
A team led by a researcher from North Carolina State University
analyzed the downstream effects of a drought in California that
took place in 2012-2016, and was considered one of the worst in
the state’s history. They found that drought led to significant
increases in power costs for three major investor-owned
utilities in the state… They also found that increased
harmful emissions of greenhouse gases could be linked to
hydropower losses during drought in the future, even as more
sources of renewable energy are added to the grid.
With dry conditions resulting in low flows and threatening the
survival of coho salmon, the State Water Board today sent
notices of water unavailability to110 junior water right
holders in the Scott River basin in Siskiyou County, urging
them to stop diverting.
A team led by a researcher from North Carolina State University
analyzed the downstream effects of a drought in California that
took place in 2012-2016, and was considered one of the worst in
the state’s history. They found that drought led to significant
increases in power costs for three major investor-owned
utilities in the state… They also found that increased
harmful emissions of greenhouse gases could be linked to
hydropower losses during drought in the future…
States have grappled in the last two decades with declining
water levels in the basin’s main reservoirs — Mead and Powell —
while reckoning with clear scientific evidence that climate
change is already constricting the iconic river… For water
managers, the steady drop in water consumption in recent years
is a signal that conservation efforts are working and that they
are not helpless in the face of daunting environmental changes.
Under current SGMA proposals, known as groundwater
sustainability plans, the study estimates that as many as
12,000 domestic wells could run dry by the year 2040.
Commissioned by the Water Foundation and put together by a
group of drinking water advocacy organizations, the study
estimates that as many as 127,000 residents could lose their
water, and that the costs of repairing these wells could run up
hundreds of millions of dollars.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the Friant-Kern
Canal, is seeking public input on plans to repair a 33-mile
stretch of canal between Lindsay and McFarland. This stretch of
the canal has lost 60% of its original conveyance capacity due
to subsidence—a sinking of the earth from groundwater
extraction – which was accelerated during California’s historic
drought from 2012-2017.
There’s a reckoning coming, unless cities and farm districts
across the West band together to limit consumption. The coming
dealmaking will almost certainly need to involve the river’s
largest water user, the Imperial Irrigation District. But at
the moment, it’s unclear to what extent the district actually
controls the Imperial Valley’s Colorado River water. That was
the issue debated in a San Diego courtroom last week
Projected higher inflows to Shasta Lake caused the Bureau of
Reclamation earlier this month to rescind its “Shasta Critical
Year” designation after hydrologic conditions changed
sufficiently. … For growers with senior water rights under
the Exchange and Settlement contracts with the Central Valley
Project, this means full allocation water deliveries will be
Tulare County farmers will get more water than expected from a
dry winter but far less than needed to avoid depleting an
aquifer that is already drying up. The U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation’s Central Valley Project announced the Friant
Division … will receive 60% instead of 55% of its Class 1
water supply thanks to improved hydrologic conditions and the
forecasted snowmelt runoff in the Upper San Joaquin River
In these extraordinary times, managing groundwater for
long-term sustainability may not seem like a top priority. But
in the San Joaquin Valley — where groundwater supplies have
been declining for decades — excess pumping is a critical
problem, with major implications for public health, jobs, the
environment and local economies.
The passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act
(SGMA) in 2014, granted the state official oversight authority
of groundwater. … A new paper published in Society and
Natural Resources, examines how the state’s ongoing involvement
helped shape current policies by looking at the 120-year
history of California’s role in groundwater management…
The Sonoma County Water Agency filed a Temporary Urgency Change
Petition with the State Water Resources Control Board to reduce
Russian River minimum in-stream flows this summer. With the
Ukiah region facing its third driest water year on record, Lake
Mendocino’s water supply is projected to reach critically low
levels due to dry conditions and reduced water transfers from
the Potter Valley Project.
Farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Project are breathing a
sigh of relief after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced
Tuesday it will not further reduce this year’s water allotment,
which is already less than half of demand. … On the other
hand, tribal members that depend on ample salmon runs for their
way of life argue the runs will continue to suffer in warm, low
rivers without enough flow for them to migrate and spawn.
The Department of the Interior announced that Assistant
Secretary for Water and Science Timothy Petty, Ph.D., is the
new co-chair of the National Drought Resilience Partnership
(NDRP), an inter agency task force that enhances Federal
drought resilience coordination.
Over the years, much attention has been given to California’s
drought, but less is known about the more than one million
Californians in more than 300 communities who don’t have access
to clean drinking water. To address this crisis, CSU faculty
and students are performing community assessments, conducting
research and assisting local engineering projects, often with
support from Water Resources & Policy Initiatives. Take a look
at some of the CSU’s ongoing work.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is backpedaling on a plan to
further slash water deliveries to Klamath Basin farmers this
summer, as the agency is reverting to an earlier allocation of
140,000 acre-feet. The bureau in May signaled plans to cut
its allocation to 80,000 acre-feet as part of a three-year
operating plan, initiated under an agreement with the Yurok
With supplies curtailed from California’s largest water
projects, farmers have been reducing acreage, water districts
have been working to secure additional supplies, and everyone
has been keeping an eye on the continued dispute between state
and federal governments on managing the Delta.
After nearly two decades of declining water flows into the
Colorado River Basin, scientists have decided the word drought
doesn’t cut it anymore. We need different terms, they say, to
help people fully grasp what has happened and the long-term
implications of climate change — not just in the Southwest, but
across the country. The term that’s caught the most attention
lately is “megadrought.”
Under the 1944 treaty, the US is committed to sending 1.5mn
acre-feet of water from the Colorado River basin to Mexico in
12-month periods, which represents 10% of the river’s average
flow, according to the US Congressional Research Service.
Meanwhile, Mexico must send 1.75mn acre-feet in five-year
cycles from the Rio Grande’s six major tributaries that cross
Across the Southwest, investors are banking on water scarcity.
They are buying up farms and ranches as states explore new
programs that could make it easier to sell and transfer water.
… Today a new type of investor has started eyeing water in
the basin, less intent on building a new community than on
supporting existing ones within one of the nation’s fastest
In May, Cyclone Amphan made landfall in Bangladesh and eastern
India. The category 5 storm forced around 3 million people to
flee their homes. With this scenario in mind, a group of
disaster experts published guidelines for political leaders and
emergency managers so that they can prepare before the storms
The imbalance on the Colorado River needs to be addressed, and
agriculture, as the biggest water user in the basin, needs to
be part of a fair solution. But drying up vital food-producing
land is a blunt tool. It would damage our local food-supply
chains and bring decline to rural communities that have
developed around irrigated agriculture.
By the thousands, they rolled through the Southern Oregon
countryside in tractors, hay trucks, log trucks, pickups and
minivans, their hand-painted signs greeted by supportive
passers-by who agreed with the message of Friday’s “Shut Down
and Fed Up” rally: the water problems that for decades have
plagued the region and its farmers must be resolved.
Paso Robles has an oversupply of wine grapes, according to
growers and winemakers. That’s an existing problem that’s been
exacerbated by COVID-19. … According to Jerry Lohr, owner of
J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, and some others in the wine
industry, there’s never been a better time to talk about
creating a fallowing program for the North County region, which
overlies the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin.
In a stark reminder that drought has once again taken hold on
the North Coast, Sonoma County is preparing to ask state water
regulators for permission to reduce water levels in the Russian
River this summer to conserve water stored in Lake Mendocino
and ensure minimal late-season flows for fish.
A recent study published in the journal Science helps explains
why, revealing that the south-western US is in the grip of a
20-year megadrought – a period of severe aridity that is
stoking fires, depleting reservoirs and putting a strain on
water supplies to the states of the region.
This practice entails on-site grinding of whole, removed trees
and the incorporation of the wood chips back into the almond
fields before the next replanting. … In terms of soil health,
the [University of California] researchers found a 58% increase
in soil carbon as well as a 32% increase in water holding
capacity compared to conventional burning practices. Overall
productivity of the trees increased by 20% as well.
Anticipating where a fire is likely to ignite and how it might
spread requires information about how much burnable plant
material exists on the landscape and its dryness. Yet this
information is surprisingly difficult to gather at the scale
and speed necessary to aid wildfire management. Now, a team of
experts in hydrology, remote sensing and environmental
engineering have developed a deep-learning model that maps fuel
moisture levels in fine detail across 12 western states
Drive through new developments across the Capital Region like
East Sacramento’s McKinley Village or Folsom’s Folsom Ranch …
and one will see a distinctly different landscape than ones
installed just 10 years ago. Low- to medium-water-use plants
are surrounded by bark mulch with little or no grass, irrigated
primarily with a drip system.
This winter’s decent snowfall has turned into an abysmal runoff
on the Colorado River, thanks to the dry soils heading into the
winter, along with a warm spring. … Our bigger concern is
what happens next year. Are we headed for a multi-year drought?
Northstate lawmakers and local leaders gathered in Paradise,
Tuesday, urging Governor Gavin Newsom to reconsider proposed
state budget cuts that would impact the Paradise Irrigation
District. … Earlier this month, Newsom proposed cutting the
second year of backfill funding to the district meant to help
them stay afloat after the Camp Fire decimated the ridge’s
The availability of water from Gibraltar Reservoir, upstream on
the Santa Ynez River, in the past few years as well as Santa
Barbara’s desalination plant operation and water conservation
have enabled the city to accumulate a significant amount of
stored water in Lake Cachuma… The water-supply planning
positioned Santa Barbara to continue resting its groundwater
basins through fall 2022.
The Klamath Project, a U.S. government-operated waterworks that
steers runoff from the towering Cascades to more than 200,000
acres of potatoes, alfalfa, wheat, onions and other produce on
both sides of the state line, is running low on supplies. The
local water agencies served by the project say they may not
have water to send to farms beyond next month.
The State Water Project now expects to deliver 20 percent of
requested supplies in 2020 thanks to above-average
precipitation in May, the California Department of Water
Resources announced. An initial allocation of 10 percent was
announced in December and increased to 15 percent in January.
Today’s announcement will likely be the final allocation update
Though the last couple of weekends have seen wet weather, it
hasn’t been enough to keep up with the yearly average in time
for summer in California. The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which is
tested regularly by employees of the California Department of
Water Resources, has yielded some grim results so far in 2020
in terms of snow-water equivalent.
With droughts inevitable, more farmers are switching from
almonds to pistachios, but not everyone is happy about
it. Around the Central Valley, as far north as Colusa but
mostly south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, pistachio
production is rapidly accelerating.
The Agribusiness and Water Council of Arizona likes to say it
represents Arizona agriculture “from ditch bank to dinner
plate” indicative of the fact that its members range from
farmers and ranchers to irrigation groups and trade
associations — all of them concerned about water flow along
the 1,450-mile-long Colorado River.
On this edition of Your Call’s One Planet Series, we’re
discussing a new study from Columbia University about an
emerging climate-driven megadrought in the Western US.
Researchers used hydrological modeling and tree-ring
reconstructions of summer soil moisture to show that the period
from 2000 to 2018 was the driest 19-year span since the late
Following spring storms, the Bureau of Reclamation today issued
updated allocations for Central Valley Project contractors for
the 2020 contract year. … The allocation for south-of-Delta
agricultural water service contractors is increased from 15% to
20% of their contract total. Municipal and Industrial water
service contractors south-of-Delta are now allocated 70% of
their historic use, up from 65%, or health and safety needs,
whichever is greater.
Cornell engineers have used advanced modeling to simulate more
than 1 million potential futures – a technique known as
scenario discovery – to assess how stakeholders who rely on the
Colorado River might be uniquely affected by changes in climate
and demand as a result of management practices and other
South Feather Water & Power Agency proposes to transfer the
water from July through November 2020 to participating agencies
of the State Water Contractors and the Central Valley Project
(CVP). The transfer would involve up to 5,000 AF of water
previously stored in Little Grass Valley Reservoir under Permit
1267, and up to 5,001 AF of water previously stored in Sly
Creek Reservoir under Permit 2492.
Increased frequency and severity of droughts threatens
California’s endangered salmon population — but pools that
serve as drought refuges could make the difference between life
and death for these vulnerable fish, according to a study by
researchers from UC Berkeley and California Sea Grant…
A new study led by Adam Schreiner-McGraw, a postdoctoral
hydrology researcher at University of California, Riverside,
modeled shrub encroachment on a sloping landscape and reached a
startling conclusion: Shrub encroachment on slopes can increase
the amount of water that goes into groundwater storage. The
effect of shrubs is so powerful that it even counterbalances
the lower annual rainfall amounts expected during climate
A water budget is an accounting of the rates of the inflows,
outflows, and changes in water storage in a specific area;
however, as simple as that might sound, developing an accurate
water budget can be a difficult and challenging endeavor. To
address this problem, the Department of Water Resources has
developed a water budget handbook…
The Poseidon desalination plant proposed for Huntington Beach
could be facing rough waters ahead, as several regulatory
officials on Friday expressed concerns over the controversial
plan.. During a Regional Water Quality Control Board workshop
held online, three of the agency’s six board members
persistently pressed local officials about the need, consumer
cost and environmental harm of the $1 billion project.
Northern California will have its most soaking rain from this
storm into Monday. Through Tuesday, with the cold upper-level
air in the jet stream trough overhead, showers and
thunderstorms, some possibly with small hail, can be expected
in Northern California.
Sprawled across a desert expanse along the Utah-Arizona border,
Lake Powell’s nearly 100-foot high bathtub ring etched on its
sandstone walls belie the challenges of a major Colorado River
reservoir at less than half-full. How those challenges play out
as demand grows for the river’s water amid a changing climate
is fueling simmering questions about Powell’s future.
Sprawled across a desert expanse
along the Utah-Arizona border, Lake Powell’s nearly 100-foot high
bathtub ring etched on its sandstone walls belie the challenges
of a major Colorado River reservoir at less than half-full. How
those challenges play out as demand grows for the river’s water
amid a changing climate is fueling simmering questions about
This interdisciplinary study by plant biologists and physicists
is important because it potentially explains how plants take up
water in very dry soil — such as drought-tolerant plants in
Southern California and in the desert — and survive, said Cal
State Fullerton plant biologist H. Jochen Schenk, a co-author
of the paper.
Water could soon be shut off to farmers in the Klamath Basin,
triggering major financial losses. Klamath Project farmers
began hiring, and ordering supplies based on Bureau of
Reclamation forecasts of 140,000 acre feet of water. Gene Souza
of the Klamath Irrigation District says that water allocation
As of Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration’s forecast for this year’s expected water
supplies in the Colorado River is at 59% of average. That’s not
good news. If that prediction proves true, this will be one of
the driest water years since Lake Powell was constructed nearly
60 years ago.
Like an undulating seesaw, weather in some regions swings from
drought to heavy rain under the weight of climate-induced
changes, a new study finds. The analysis, published in
Geophysical Research Letters, finds a link between droughts
followed by heavy rain events, along with an increased rate of
these successive extreme weather occurrences.
In March, the California Department of Water Resources released
a nearly completed draft report on the risk of water shortage
in rural areas and the drought vulnerability of small systems.
… Across the state, Monterey County is among the most
vulnerable counties, with one of the largest numbers of highly
impacted rural communities, according to the report. Also, the
county’s small water systems are on average the 13th most
vulnerable out of those of 58 counties.
A new study published in Nature Climate Change indicates that
about 50 percent of current runoff comes directly from Sierra
snowmelt, and the Valley stands to lose between 13 percent and
50 percent of snowmelt runoff as the climate warms.
The event was the first weather balloon launch from a Yuba
Water Agency site near Beale Air Force Base. But it will not be
the last. During atmospheric rivers, scientists plan to release
a balloon every three hours from this point to collect data.
And the more data, the better, because understanding the
structure of these storms can help with forecasting and flood
As a result of compliance with conservation measures through
lower indoor water use, the amount of wastewater effluent was
reduced. This reduction means less water for recycling and
reuse — a source of water often thought of as drought-proof —
and less water for stream augmentation, with a consequence of
potentially impacting streamflow and downstream water
The return of drought to California has been widespread—58% of
the state now experiences some level of dryness, according to
the U.S. Drought Monitor—with extreme drought concentrated in
4% of the state, primarily in the northwestern region of
Siskiyou, Trinity and Humboldt counties.
There is a better, more equitable pathway for reducing the
deficit without forcing arbitrary cuts. It involves 3 million
acres of irrigated agriculture, mostly alfalfa and forage
crops, which consume more than 80% of total water use in the
basin. By retiring less than 10% of this irrigated acreage from
production, we could eliminate the existing million acre-foot
overdraft on the Colorado River..
Nevadans and Utahns won a major economic and environmental
victory in mid-April that will help protect air quality along
the Wasatch Front and the Great Basin’s fragile water supply ––
including Great Salt Lake.
What we in Los Angeles should want from the Met is a continuing
flow of clean water from the faucet — but this time with
planning and infrastructure that reduce reliance on diminishing
imports, minimize damage to our fellow Californians in the
delta and elsewhere, and sustain iconic species like migrating
After an extremely dry winter in Northern California, the
window is closing for additional rain that could delay large
summer fires. In fact, this week, the state is baking under a
spring heat wave, while snow is vanishing from mountain slopes.
It is shaping up to be a busy summer fire season not only in
California, but in many parts of the West.
Following passage of SGMA, The Nature Conservancy received a
$1.8 million Conservation Innovation Grant from USDA’s Natural
Resources Conservation Service to develop the Fox Canyon Water
Market. TNC, supported by project partners Fox Canyon
Groundwater Management Agency and California Lutheran
University, sought to establish a market-driven approach to
reduce groundwater pumping.
At a virtual event last week, PPIC researcher Henry McCann
described how improved management can make Sierra forests more
resilient and avoid major wildfire-related disasters, and
summarized the findings of a new report that identifies the
benefits and beneficiaries of such management practices.
Since 2000, the West has been stricken by a dry spell so severe
that it ranks among the biggest “megadroughts” of the past
1,200 years. But scientists have found that unlike the
decades-long droughts of centuries ago, this one has been
supercharged by humanity’s heating of the planet.
The Bureau of Reclamation has released a funding opportunity
for communities to take a proactive approach to drought through
building projects that increase water supply reliability,
improve water management, or provide benefits for fish,
wildlife and the environment.
Expanding and intensifying drought in Northern California
portends an early start to the wildfire season, and the
National Interagency Fire Center is predicting above-normal
potential for large wildfires by midsummer. Mountain snowpack
has been below average across the High Sierra, southern
Cascades and the Great Basin, and the agency warns that these
areas need to be monitored closely as fuels continue to dry
There are 29 federally recognized tribes across the Colorado
River Basin. Together, these tribes have water rights to
roughly 20% of the water that flows through the river annually.
In Arizona, the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) and the
Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) were critical partners in
making the Drought Contingency Plan possible.
The last Sierra Nevada snowpack measurement of the season on
Thursday confirmed what California officials have feared for
months: The state has suffered through a dry winter. … A
broader measurement taken by 130 electronic sensors throughout
the Sierra revealed an average snow water equivalent of 8.4
inches, or 37 percent of average for this time of year.
It’s the early 1990s, and Park Williams stands in the middle of
Folsom Lake, at the base of the Sierra Nevada foothills in
Northern California. He’s not walking on water; severe drought
has exposed the lakebed. “I remember being very impressed by
the incredible variability of water in the West and how it’s
very rare that we actually have just enough water,” said
Williams, who went on to become a climate scientist at Columbia
Fairness – or at least the perception of fairness – could play
a determining role in the future of California’s groundwater,
according to new research. The study, published in Society and
Natural Resources, evaluated 137 surveys of Yolo County farmers
to gauge their perceptions of fairness for groundwater
allocation strategies and dispute resolution options.
Following poor rainfall this winter and rising water demand in
recent years, the Marin Municipal Water District is considering
a major purchase of Sonoma County water as insurance for a
potential dry period.
As Siskiyou County slips back into severe drought, members of
Siskiyou County’s Groundwater Advisory Committees met last week
to continue drafting groundwater management plans as
conservation groups, farmers and other special interest groups
brace for another dry summer.
Oregon Water Resources Director Thomas Byler sent a letter to
Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office manager Jeff Nettleton
on Thursday, confirming it has taken exclusive charge of Upper
Klamath Lake… The order said it prohibits U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation from diverting stored water in Upper Klamath Lake
through Link River for purposes of a 50,000 acre-feet flushing
flow without a water right.
As expected, irrigators in the Klamath Project are getting less
water than they will likely need this summer thanks to a
combination of dry weather and more water being kept in-stream
to protect threatened coho salmon.
As of March, the East Valley Water District’s Sterling Natural
Resource Center construction project reached the halfway point
to scheduled completion⎯about 18 months in and 18 months left
to work. The water recycling plant will be capable of treating
up to 10 million gallons per day, depositing the clean water
into percolation ponds in order to recharge the Bunker Hill
Recent rains and now rising temperatures will promote fuel
growth throughout California, adding up to an explosive fire
season. But while firefighters focus on the national emergency,
there is another deadly danger ready to spread – wildfire.
Wildfire season is around the corner, and COVID-19 creates even
more challenges for the fire service, requiring our
communities’ help and cooperate more than ever.
It wasn’t exactly a “March Miracle,” but the precipitation
Santa Barbara County received this spring rescued what
otherwise had been a fairly sorry rain season, and gave a
healthy boost to local water supplies. As of Monday, the county
as a whole had received 95 percent of its average rainfall to
date, according to the county Flood Control District.
To develop the rankings, the state took into account numerous
factors, including each water system’s vulnerability to climate
change and projected temperature changes, projected sea level
rise, recent water shortages, whether the system is in an
overdrafted groundwater basin or was located in an area with
underlying fractured rock.
The US Drought Monitor update released Thursday morning lists
far Northern California as the most impacted by a lackluster
rain and snow season. Some areas such as Eureka and Mount
Shasta are down more than 15″ of rain from their averages for
the season so far.
Samantha Ying and Michael Schaefer, both from the Department of
Environmental Sciences at University of California (UC)
Riverside, are part of a team set on untangling the mystery of
a practice upon which farmers have relied for centuries to
reduce water use—cover crops.
In January, water users in 21 critically overdrafted basins
delivered their groundwater sustainability plans to the state
Department of Water Resources. In this series, we examine the
36 plans submitted for 11 critically overdrafted basins in the
San Joaquin Valley—California’s largest farming region, where
excess pumping is a major challenge.
Today, the Bureau of Reclamation updated the water supply
allocation for Friant Division Central Valley Project contracts
for the 2020 contract year. The Friant Division provides water
for 15,000 family farms and several cities in the Central
Valley. … Given the current hydrologic conditions,
Reclamation is increasing the Class 1 allocation from 40% to
55%; Class 2 remains at 0%.