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.
For nearly two decades, Los Vaqueros Reservoir — a sprawling
lake in eastern Contra Costa County nearly 3 miles long and 170
feet deep — has been a popular spot for boating, fishing,
hiking and a key source of water for local residents.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, campaigning for U.S.
Senate, said Tuesday that she would consider amending the
federal law governing endangered species to help improve the
water supply across the parched state of California.
With El Niño-fueled storms drowning out reminders that most of
California remains in a state of severe drought, a growing
number of communities and water associations are demanding an
end to emergency water restrictions that were first imposed
more than a year ago.
Once bathed in deep green, the forests in the foothills and
Sierra east of the San Joaquin Valley are increasingly turning
reddish-brown as drought- and beetle-weary trees die by the
month. … Local and state officials want the ponderosa
pine’s territory, generally above 3,000 feet in elevation,
declared a federal disaster area.
Earth Day, celebrated today across the globe, reminds us of the
fragile state of our planet. From land contaminated with toxic
chemicals to bad air spewed into the atmosphere, the most of us
have been affected by pollution in some way. To bring all of
this closer to home, we’re listing the 10 most critical
environmental problems in Southern California.
Lake Tahoe’s famed water clarity took a hit last year in part
due to California’s fourth consecutive year of drought.
… With spring snowmelt continuing, the lake is currently
2 inches above its rim and has begun spilling over into the
Truckee River for the first time since October 2014.
The U.S. Drought Monitor says extreme and exceptional drought
was reduced slightly in California last week and, for the first
time since the week of July 2013, there is no exceptional
drought in Nevada.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Tuesday called for “a major
course correction” in the way the nation conserves its public
lands, waters and wildlife, saying climate change and other
trends threaten natural areas “in existential ways.”
Among firs and cedars high in the Sierra Nevada, scientists are
using an array of instruments to monitor the health of the
forest, measure the snowpack and track the water that melts and
seeps into the soil. … Already, as the winters have grown
warmer, the snow has been melting earlier after storms pass.
Politicians in Washington could have passed laws four years ago
that would be yielding benefits today. These would be things
like assistance with groundwater recharge, water conservation
on farms, stormwater capture and wastewater recycling. I
[Matt Weiser] call these non-nuclear options, because they
don’t peg the Geiger counter in many lobbying offices in the
Four years of bruising drought in the West has strained inland
rivers where salmon spawn, putting the fish in sharp decline.
… The salmon industry in California and Oregon alone is
valued at $2 billion annually.
For the first time in five years, Northern California’s rivers
are roaring and its reservoirs are filled almost to the brim.
But you’d hardly know it, based on how quiet it’s been at the
two giant pumping stations at the south end of the
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Despite the wettest winter in five years, an overwhelming
majority of Californians believe that the state faces an
extremely serious water shortage and plan to continue
conserving water, according to a poll released Thursday.
Responding to profound threats to California’s quintessential
catch, federal fishery regulators laid out new restrictions
Thursday for the state’s commercial salmon fishing season,
scheduled to begin next month, as well as to the sport season,
which started April 2.
In what may be an ominous sign for the end of the drought, the
El Niño that brought Northern California its wettest winter in
five years is continuing to weaken and appears to be giving way
to its atmospheric sibling — La Niña.
Dramatic photographs showing
California’s diminishing, drought-ravaged reservoirs
circulated all over news sites and social media last year.
Images of exposed lake beds with parched, cracked earth became
symbols of the Golden State’s water crisis. The story
changed this winter.
The politics of California water is becoming three-dimensional
chess in Congress as lawmakers balance competing anti-drought
ideas with a proposed San Joaquin Valley irrigation drainage
settlement that’s going to get bigger.
The first Alaska wildfire of 2016 broke out in late February,
followed by a second there just eight days later. … And
on the border of Arizona and California this month, helicopters
dumped water on flames so intense that they jumped the Colorado
River, forcing the evacuation of two recreational vehicle
Here at the Gatekeepers Museum, onlookers see something that
until now has been a rare occurrences. Lake Tahoe at its
natural rim, slightly above as a matter of fact, to allow water
to overflow into tributaries — like the Truckee River.
A pattern change will continue to bring rain and some mountain
snow to parts of the drought-stricken West this week.
… This pattern change is good news for California, where
drought remains a concern and any precipitation is
People have long predicted that California could eventually
collapse into the ocean following a mega earthquake. Now, an
eerily similar true-life scenario is playing out — but it’s
thanks to the weather.
Scattered statewide showers forced baseball players to sit
through rain, horses to run through mud and caused other
nuisances. But the rainfall once again fell short of wet
expectations for the dry California.
In record numbers, homeowners throughout the state rushed out
to buy flood insurance in anticipation of the widely hyped –
and feared – monster El Niño. …. And some are asking: Did all
these insurance buyers make a monster mistake?
This is the time of year when water utilities set their rates,
which almost inevitably go up. But this year, the rate hikes
are likely to be higher than usual, as water utilities cope
with the unexpected impact of mandatory conservation on their
In another sign that the drought isn’t over in this neck of
California, state officials are considering temporarily
loosening water quality standards on the Stanislaus and San
Joaquin rivers for the third year in a row.
Some residents of drought-stricken California who let their
lawns turn brown and took shorter showers could soon get some
relief, while others may continue to feel the pain. In the
coming months, state officials will undertake a monumental task
of rewriting conservation orders for a fifth year of drought.
On April 20, the [State Water Resources Control] board will
meet with hundreds of cities, water utilities and private water
companies in an effort to reduce targets and adjust a new
conservation plan that runs through October. On May 5, the
board will consider reducing targets due to water availability
Poised to ease California’s mandatory drought rules after
rebounding rain and snow levels this winter, state water
officials on Monday made it clear that — even where reservoirs
are 100 percent full — no community is likely to get an
entirely free pass from conservation targets this summer.
Californians cut water use 12 percent in February, concluding a
nine-month mandatory conservation initiative that fell just
short of the governor’s 25 percent saving goal, according to
state data released Monday.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in an eagerly anticipated
announcement, outlined the initial 2016 water allocations from
the Central Valley Project, the federal government’s massive
network of reservoirs, pumps and canals.
A nearly average spring snowpack in the Sierra Nevada will
likely prolong tough water conservation measures in
drought-stricken California — although the restrictions could
be loosened in some areas after an El Niño storm system
drenched the northern half of the state this winter, officials
“California’s front yard” is getting a water-wise makeover.
Work crews Wednesday started sheet mulching swaths of lawn
outside the state Capitol as the iconic Capitol Park begins
transforming its landscape for a more drought-tolerant future.
“And don’t forget the trees,” would be the refrain from State
Water Resources Control Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus at the
end of every meeting. Marcus wants Californians to conserve
water but not at the expense of yard trees and park specimens
that provide shade and reduce energy use.
The rain storms and blizzards that were supposed to come with
El Niño were conspicuously non-biblical in California this
winter, leaving the state in an ecological limbo that has
regulators thinking about easing water-use restrictions in some
places but not in others.
With the wettest winter in five years having taken the hard
edges off the historic drought and a key Sierra snowpack
reading Wednesday expected to show big gains, Californians can
look forward to substantial relief from mandatory statewide
One year ago Friday, Frank Gehrke hiked out to Phillips Station
and stuck a tube onto a tuft of brownish-green grass. There was
no snow, but Gehrke had quite an audience. … On Wednesday,
when Gehrke hikes out to the field again, he’ll have something
Congress is about to try again to help ease California’s
drought. … Discerning the helpful proposals from the
hyperbole can be difficult. So as a guide to the process, Water
Deeply offers the following four themes to watch as the bills
Pointing to improved conditions at Folsom Lake, a water
district serving one of the region’s wealthiest areas announced
Friday that it would not follow conservation targets mandated
by the state this year and would instead ask its customers to
voluntarily cut water use by 10 percent.
Adding to the debate over Northern California’s winter
stormwater, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and congressional
Republicans asked President Obama on Thursday to increase the
volume of water pumped through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
to the drought-stricken San Joaquin Valley.
The U.S. Drought Monitor released March 24 says from a water
supply perspective, there is nearly normal snowpack to melt off
and northern Sierra reservoirs are filling. But long-term to
extreme drought is still “entrenched” across much of central
and southern California.
After years of drought, Northern California has so much water
that the state’s two largest reservoirs are releasing water to
maintain flood-control safety. … Shasta and Oroville are
the twin anchors of California’s giant water-delivery
With Lake Oroville rising more than 82 feet this month, the
water level is now cutting into the buffer needed for flood
control. … Other north state reservoirs have increased
their outflows as they encroach on flood control limits.
The White House on Tuesday unveiled several billion dollars’
worth of corporate commitments to water research and
development during a high-level summit. Pegged to World Water
Day, the summit was intended to draw attention to specific
state and corporate pledges as well as new Obama administration
initiatives prompted in part by Western states’ drought and the
Flint, Michigan, drinking water scandal.
Late last spring, amid the depths of California’s punishing
drought, state officials made a historic determination that
rivers and creeks were too low for many farms and cities to
draw from. Not everyone agreed, however.
The so-called March Miracle has unleashed the largest
allocation of water from Northern California in four years,
more than doubling the flow of imported water from the State
Water Project into Central and Southern California.
President Barack Obama on Monday directed the federal
government to come up with a less reactionary and more
long-term strategy for dealing with drought. … The White
House is hosting a “water summit” on Tuesday, which is World
Water Day, to raise awareness of the importance of safe,
sufficient and reliable water resources.
The film, titled “Pumped Dry: The Global Crisis of Vanishing
Groundwater,” was co-produced by Steve Elfers of USA TODAY and
Ian James of The Desert Sun, and was supported by a grant from
the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
As Californians hope for rain and snow to end the state’s
extreme drought, a decades-old rule prohibits reservoirs from
filling up in the winter, so some water ends up being released.
The rule may sound odd given how chronically dry California is,
but it’s actually to prevent a bigger disaster: flooding.
Congress is about to try again to help ease California’s
drought. A handful of bills — some new, some held over from
last year — will come up for debate in the weeks ahead. The
subject is as partisan as the presidential race, and a lot more
The Forest Service is conducting an environmental review of
Nestle’s controversial bottled water operation in the San
Bernardino Mountains, and could require the company to monitor
the impacts of its withdrawals, officials said Friday, March
Deliveries from the State Water Project are now forecast to be
45 percent of what was requested, still less than what’s
supplied during most wet years but more than what’s been
allocated since the first year of the drought.
Seeking to impart lessons from Australia’s 15-year “millennium
drought,” the nonprofit California Foundation on the
Environment and the Economy is paying for a handful of
lawmakers to fly across the world during the Legislature’s
spring recess next week.
California’s 2nd District Congressman Jared Huffman stated the
proposed harvest reductions will have a significant economic
impact on California’s $1.4 billion salmon industry which he
said could be exacerbated should Congress fail to pass
legislation to address the ongoing drought conditions.
Seasonal storms that have raised the region’s reservoir water
levels to their highest points in the last two years could
bolster this year’s run of Chinook salmon, water and wildlife
officials said Wednesday.
Ever since a series of winter storms began dumping rain and
snow in Northern California last year, officials have been
looking for tangible signs that all those storms were making a
dent in the state’s four-year drought.
This week on Sea Change Radio, host Alex Wise speaks with
energy reporter from The Desert Sun, Sammy Roth. He recently
researched a piece about efforts to make desalination more
commonplace in California.
The northern Sierra has seen nearly double the average
precipitation since the beginning of March. It may seem
hard to believe after such a dry February, but some of
California’s largest reservoirs have approached flood
Federal fishery regulators unveiled plans this week to limit
this year’s chinook salmon catch in an effort to protect the
state’s signature seafood amid the growing threats of a warming
ocean and drought-parched rivers and creeks.
With California’s two largest reservoirs hitting historically
average levels following a weekend of heavy storms, the state’s
chief water regulator is cautiously optimistic that the drought
may finally be relaxing its grip.
Stormwater is starting to get some serious attention in
California, as the state’s drought enters a fifth year. … In
Walnut Creek, behind a ranch-style home, landscape designer
Ryan Kelsey is helping people do that—at least in the short
term, and on their own properties.
For the past five years, as the drought drained California’s
water sources and depleted its reservoirs, Southern California
water managers have relied increasingly on the region’s largest
out-of-state water source: the Colorado River.
Saying too much water is flowing out to sea, U.S. Sen. Dianne
Feinstein on Friday called on operators of the federal and
state water projects to pump more water south through the Delta
to drought-stricken farms and cities in Central and Southern
An endangered fish in the middle of California’s struggle over
water allocations is becoming scarcer. … An indicator
species of the environmental health of the Delta, the smelt
also figures into the criteria for regulators determining how
much water can be pumped from the Sacramento San Joaquin River
Clouds over Los Angeles County were seeded with silver
iodide to increase the amount of rainfall during Monday’s
storm, marking the first cloud seeding done by the
Department of Public Works since 2002.
This weekend’s soaking rains delivered just what drought-weary
Northern California needed: billions of gallons of water
pouring into the state’s major reservoirs — and more predicted
for later this week.
Northern California was slammed by powerful storms over the
weekend that dumped rain across coastal regions and plenty of
snow in the Sierra, while Southern California was expected to
see another round of showers and thunderstorms Monday after a
Due to the drought and poor ocean conditions, the number of
fall-run salmon in the Pacific Ocean has plummeted this year,
increasing the likelihood that federal and state officials will
restrict commercial and recreational salmon fishing.
The latest snow survey in the Sierra Nevada showed that an
above-average snowpack in January gave way to a dry February,
which reduced the statewide snowpack to 83 percent of normal.
It was slightly better in the norther Sierra/Trinity area, the
drainages that feed lakes Oroville and Shasta, but still below
average at 89 percent.
[Jym] Gritzfeld was among about 150 people – mostly
recreational and commercial anglers – who filed into a
conference room in Santa Rosa on Wednesday to hear
presentations from state and federal fisheries managers about
the dire state of salmon off the coast of California.
Enhanced water-use restrictions imposed last year on more than
10,000 Sonoma County landowners whose properties lie along four
critical salmon-bearing streams will be lifted this spring in
recognition of improved winter rainfall.
An unwelcome three-week winter dry spell left the California
snowpack at just 83 percent of average, a setback for the state
as it tries to break out of record drought, state snow
surveyors found Tuesday.
In another sign that a once-promising El Niño weather pattern
is proving to be no drought-buster, California officials say an
unseasonably warm and dry February shrunk the Sierra snowpack
to below average depths.
“Crazy-making” is how Felicia Marcus, chair of the state water
board and the political face of the ongoing drought,
characterized a February in which nature suddenly turned off
its taps. “Nervous-making.”
Eight months after California’s governor ordered cities to cut
water consumption by a quarter, residents and businesses have
exceeded expectations. … Now, the state’s furious
conservation drive is not only threatening trees but also
resulting in sluggish sewer lines and possible increases in
water and tax bills.
After a dismally dry February, drought-weary Californians are
hoping a series of storms predicted to roll through in early
March blanket the Sierra Nevada with a much-needed additional
layer of snow, building up the state’s vital snowpack that all
but disappeared last year.
Northern California’s commercial anglers are bracing for
restrictions on the upcoming salmon-fishing season after
federal regulators projected there are half as many Central
Valley Chinook salmon in the ocean compared to this time last
After a seven-month legal battle, the Metropolitan Water
District of Southern California on Friday released the names
and addresses of thousands of Los Angeles residents who
received cash rebates for replacing their lawns.
On a hot summer afternoon, California farmer Chris Hurd barrels
down a country road through the Central Valley city of
Firebaugh, his dog Frank riding in the truck bed. …
Agricultural land stretches out in every direction.
Even in the midst of a strong El Niño, California’s sunny
weather this February is not surprising, experts say: The
longest dry spell this month — 14 days — is actually less than
the average for a strong El Niño winter.
Even with unseasonably warm temperatures and little to no rain
in the forecast for at least the next seven days, the operators
of Folsom Dam are going to more than double the flows in the
lower American River to protect against flooding.
After a year in which Californians cut water use by 25 percent,
storm water has become the next front in what amounts to a
fundamental restructuring of Southern California’s relationship
with its intricate water network.
El Niño, as all things must, will be coming to an end over the
next couple months, possibly to be replaced by its sister
phenomenon, La Niña, which could spell a drier than average
summer and fall, a foreboding prospect for a thirsty region
suffering through an extended drought.
Going into March, there’s a good chance most of California will
see above-average precipitation, climate experts said. But
judgment day is not until April 1, when officials start
calculating just how much snow might be available to supply
California’s water demands over the summer and fall.
Despite heavy rainfall in January, an above-average snowpack
and rising reservoirs in some areas, the U.S. Drought
Monitor says more than one above-average winter will be needed
to ease all the impacts of long-term drought in
After the costliest of wildfire seasons ravaged the West last
year, with three catastrophic blazes ripping through Lake
County, the U.S. Forest Service may be headed for a showdown
with Congress over how to cover the surging bill.
Sometime soon, and possibly by the end of this week, we’ll
again bid goodbye to the old Parrotts Ferry Bridge. It’s been
nice revisiting the 78-year-old concrete crossing, north of
Columbia State Park in Tuolumne County, since it re-emerged
from the murky waters of New Melones Reservoir last summer.
Any sign of precipitation in the forecast is a welcome sight
for Californians these days. But with temperatures expected to
be above normal this winter, California’s snowpack may not
reach the heights it could.
Last fall, the consensus was that El Niño would give Southern
California the best chance for above-average rains and much
less of a chance to Northern California. But the opposite has
turned out to be true.
A report released Friday by the Legislative Analyst’s Office
(LAO) — a non-partisan fiscal and policy adviser to the
California Legislature — says that the ongoing drought
necessitates continuing support.
El Niño has given Central California a wet – and welcome –
start to the rainy season, raising water levels in foothill
reservoirs and blanketing the Sierra with snow. But the tap has
been turned off for the foreseeable future.
Money from a controversial “fire prevention” fee paid by many
California foothill and mountain residents will be used to cut
down trees that are dead or dying because of the drought and
bark beetle infestation.
Drought followed by the rains of El Niño, and heat followed by
cold snaps created a cauliflower price boom that now has turned
to a bust, and a celery inflation that lingered just long
enough, growers and industry experts say.
El Niño, which helped increase precipitation in California last
month, is taking a break. … The U.S. Drought Monitor
says “exceptional drought” was reduced slightly in just one
area of the northern Sierra this week: El Dorado County.
The U.S. Drought Monitor says exceptional drought was reduced
in one area of the northern Sierra this week, “despite heavy
precipitation and rebounding stream flows in the short term the
past few weeks.”
In the strongest indication yet that the California drought
could be easing, officials said strict water conservation
orders could be dramatically scaled back or even ended if El
Niño storms keep pummeling the state into the spring.
Despite record January rainfall, an above-average snowpack and
rising reservoirs, the state water board stuck to its
conservation guns Tuesday, approving an eight-month extension
of the existing drought-related emergency regulations with
Nine months after California imposed its first-ever mandatory
statewide water conservation rules to cope with the state’s
historic drought, dozens of leaders of water agencies on
Tuesday pleaded with the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown to
State water regulators voted to extend emergency conservation
measures because of a drought, even though an increase in rain
and snow this winter has improved California’s snowpack. But
with the drought still severe, conservations efforts fell off
One of California’s last great salmon runs tallied a perilously
low number of surviving offspring in 2015, scientists said
Monday, marking a second year of drought-driven problems for
the Sacramento River chinook, which loom on the verge of
Worsening drought conditions may be doing more damage to
forests in California and throughout the West than their
ecosystems can handle, causing a spiral of death that could
have a devastating impact, a U.S. Forest Service study
Endangered native salmon suffered a second straight disastrous
year in California’s drought, with all but 3 percent of the
latest generation dying in too-shallow, too-hot rivers, federal
officials said Monday.
Following a welcomed parade of El Niño storms drenching
drought-stricken California, state officials on Tuesday will
decide whether to extend emergency conservation orders, and
reveal how much water Californians saved in December.
Folsom — which dwindled to 14% of capacity last year and became
a global image of the California drought — has more than
tripled in size since December, thanks to a series of storms
that has brought above-average snow and rainfall to Northern
The decline also could influence whether farmers south of the
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will agree to help pay for Gov.
Jerry Brown’s Delta tunnels, the $15.5 billion plan to
re-engineer the fragile estuary with the goal of improving
reliability of water deliveries to Southern California cities
The Department of Water Resources, mindful of the fruits of the
El Niño weather pattern, boosted expected water deliveries to
cities and farms from last month’s scant projection of 10
percent of what was requested to a slightly better 15 percent.
Damages from two destructive Northern California wildfires that
killed six and sent thousands fleeing their homes topped $1
billion in insured losses, according to a preliminary estimate
by the state’s insurance department.