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.
Had it not been for a couple of days of snowfall during the
weekend, the ground would have been bare, Frank Gehrke of the
Department of Water Resources said Tuesday during a snow survey
at Philips Station near Sierra-At-Tahoe Road.
Snowpack—which essentially serves as a water tower for the
western United States—produces vital meltwater that flows off
the mountains each spring. … But the snowpack is becoming
more like a snow gap, as temperatures in the Cascades and
Sierra Nevada become too warm for the snow that replenishes the
ecosystem each winter.
Surveys by the Department of Water Resources showed the
snowpack across the entire mountain range at 19 percent of
average for early March, a level deemed “alarmingly low” by
officials. … On March 17, the State Water Board will consider
extending emergency drought regulations and adding more
stringent conservation measures.
The typical Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
residential customer will see a $2.61 monthly billing increase
by July, as this winter’s low snow-pack means the agency has to
buy more expensive imported water.
State and federal officials favoring fish habitat are to blame
for the Oakdale Irrigation District’s tentative plan to drain
Tulloch Lake this summer, OID leaders told dozens of anxious
In a new study, published in the March 2 issue of the journal
of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
researchers led by Stanford professor Noah Diffenbaugh examined
the role that temperature has played in California droughts
over the past 120 years. They also examined the effect that
human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases
are having on temperature and precipitation, focusing on the
influence of global warming upon California’s past, present and
future drought risk.
Snow levels in the Sierra Nevada are at or below what they were
during the driest years in California’s recorded history,
surveyors said Tuesday, dashing hopes that last weekend’s storm
would begin to pull the state out of its increasingly frightful
California received a double dose of bad drought news on
Tuesday, with state officials saying the snowpack in the Sierra
Nevada is far below normal and that residents again aren’t
coming close to meeting Gov. Jerry Brown’s call for a 20
percent cut in water use.
Water consumption statewide declined just 8.8 percent in
January compared with the same month of 2013 – far below the
state’s goal of 20 percent – according to data presented to the
State Water Resources Control Board on Tuesday.
Temperatures across the Bay Area soared to record highs this
winter, forecasters said Monday, the same day that a team of
Stanford researchers warned that the historic heat is helping
drive California’s crippling drought — with little sign of
A Field Poll released Thursday found 94 percent of registered
voters in California consider the state’s more than three-year
water shortage to be at least “serious,” with a full 68 percent
considering the situation “extremely serious.”
Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is altering Earth’s
most important atmospheric weather cell, drawing more moisture
into the deep tropics and broadening areas of drought at higher
latitudes, according to a new study.
Dread over the water shortage in California has grown to the
point that at least half the state’s residents are willing to
relax environmental regulations and allow construction of water
supply facilities in federal parkland, a statewide Field Poll
A storm system heading to Northern California may bring only a
fraction of an inch of rain to the Bay Area, but skiers and
snowboarders turned desperate by the drought are stoked after
learning that nearly a foot of fresh powder could fall in some
parts of the Sierra.
This is the fourth lousy winter season in a row for the ski
industry, and it has been economically devastating for the
area. Some of the smaller resorts are barely hanging on, while
larger players are carving out new ways to turn a profit.
In what could be a fourth year of drought, virtually all
Californians say the state’s water situation is serious — but
the majority still favors voluntary rather than mandatory
restrictions, a new Field Poll released Thursday found.
New regulations designed to protect spawning steelhead and
salmon during exceptionally low stream-flow conditions already
are putting a crimp in the fishing season, prompting closures
of most coastal freshwater fisheries in Marin, Sonoma and
Mendocino counties beginning today, according to the California
Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Support for rationing swelled to more than a third of voters in
the latest statewide Field Poll, a rise of 7 percentage points
since last spring. … Pollsters also found growing
concerns about water storage and supply facilities.
Rainfall, snowpack and runoff estimates are way below average,
indicating the state will continue in drought-emergency mode
throughout the year, state and regional water experts told a
gathering of 120 water managers Wednesday at a forum sponsored
by the Southern California Water Committee and the National
Water Research Institute.
While residents’ efforts to conserve water are helping,
officials say locals must continue such practices as a
multi-year drought grips California and other western states
with no immediate relief in sight.
In the January/February issue of Western Water Magazine, Writer
Gary Pitzer delves into the notion of a “sustainable” and
“resilient” water supply. His article highlights what
sustainability and resiliency mean to a state in the middle of
a drought and with a growing population and water needs that
stretch from bustling cities in the north and south to the rich
agricultural fields of the Central, Imperial and Coachella
valleys and Central Coast. … Read the excerpts from this
issue. Purchase a printed magazine or subscribe to the
digital, interactive version.
The Pacific Fisheries Management Council released estimates for
the number of chinook salmon that returned from the Pacific
Ocean in the fall to spawn in rivers where they were born or
released from hatcheries.
Just a few years ago, it looked like California health
officials had West Nile in check, with severe cases like
[Abbey] Murphy’s increasingly rare. … Then came 2012 and the
start of the state’s protracted drought.
In this region that calls itself “The Cantaloupe Center of the
World,” vast fields that once annually yielded millions of
melons lie fallow. And, for some farmers, planting tomatoes and
other traditional row crops may now constitute acts of courage.
The California Water Resources Control Board heard emotional
testimony for at least 12 hours yesterday from people worried
about how the state should manage its dwindling supply of water
during the drought.
For the second year in a row, Nevada wildlife officials are
releasing thousands of trout in the Truckee River a month
earlier than usual to give them a fighting chance to survive in
the cold mountain waters where they’ve spawned for centuries
but face increasing threats from drought.
Snowpack in the mountain valleys where the Colorado River
originates was only a little below normal on Wednesday, marking
one of the few bright spots in an increasingly grim drought
gripping much of the West.
If winter weather doesn’t return soon with a vengeance, Tulloch
Lake – a popular fishing and boating spot between Oakdale and
Jamestown, and one of California’s few reservoirs lined with
thousands of homes – might look more like a puddle by July.
The [State Water Resources Control] board last summer imposed
emergency regulations prohibiting Californians from washing
their cars with hoses that don’t shut off and limiting how
often they can water their lawns. Board members on Tuesday
appeared ready to extend those rules and add new ones.
The next train wreck in California’s drought is headed for the
San Joaquin Valley this week when federal leaders forecast how
much river water farmers can expect to irrigate nearly 3
million acres this summer.
Cemex, an international cement and gravel company, had
suspended mining at its Stillwell site and stopped pumping
water into a seepage ditch that recharges groundwater for an
adjacent area that includes four homes.
Fresno is turning its sewer farm into a drought-buster. City
Hall has started building the first phase of an advanced
treatment plant that will deliver millions of gallons of water
every day for non-drinking uses, such as irrigation of green
With 2015 emerging as another dry year in California, there are
several important lessons from the past several years that help
inform water management this year and how we can make every
drop count by serving multiple beneficial purposes that benefit
both the economy and the environment during these challenging
years. The first is the importance and value of water storage.
Explaining warmer temperatures can be complex. … But after
interviews with scientists, urban policy experts and a review
of reports, what made 2014 the warmest year on Earth, as well
as in the western United States, was a mix of powerful forces
that pushed the mercury up especially inside the heat lamps
known as cities.
Former University of Arizona chemistry professor and science
adviser to two secretaries of state under President George W.
Bush, George Atkinson believes the scientific method is
working. … For the next six weeks, he’s bringing his method
to Whittier, asking chosen representatives of the city of
86,000 to serve as a model for any town Southern California and
discuss, debate and agree on a plan to address global climate
change as well as droughts and energy use.
Russian River water managers and consumers they serve in
Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin counties got a break Wednesday from
the prospect of watching precious water flow to the ocean from
the rapidly filling Lake Mendocino reservoir near Ukiah.
A new U.S. Geological Survey study shows how plants’
vulnerability to drought varies across the landscape; factors
such as plant structure and soil type where the plant is
growing can either make them more vulnerable or protect them
from declines. Recent elevated temperatures and prolonged
droughts in many already water-limited regions throughout the
world, including the southwestern U.S., are likely to intensify
according to future climate model projections.
A new web app from the Pacific Institute shows how different
California cities are responding to the ongoing drought. This
web feature brings to life newly-released data on residential
and system-wide water use, and allows users to explore trends
and patterns in that use.
Two major developments in the [Yuba County Water] agency’s
history were coming to a head — the application for a new
license that will determine how the water project is run for
the next 50 years and the takeover of the operation of the
project’s hydropower plant.
In an environmental study nine years in the making, the State
Water Resources Control Board has proposed lowering the
temperature of the [Feather] river 40 miles below Lake Almanor
through enormous devices known as thermal curtains. … The
thermal curtain project is part of PG&E’s application to
renew licenses on its Feather River hydroelectric projects at
Rock Creek and Cresta.
Modesto Irrigation District leaders Tuesday morning could
revive last year’s drought-combating measures, which enjoyed
only marginal success, for the coming season. … The MID board
Tuesday morning also will continue discussing a historical
inequity in rates that has electricity customers subsidizing
farmers’ water prices.
The Metropolitan Water District, the agency that supplies the
bulk of the water for Southern California, is considering water
rationing by summer unless statewide drought conditions
radically improve, the agency announced Monday.
As the state faces a possible fourth year of drought, Northern
California is enjoying a healthy wet winter so far, with
rainfall levels at 100 percent of their historic average or
above in nearly every city, and reservoirs, while still not
back to normal, steadily filling.
California will get a big chunk of federal drought relief money
directed at Western states, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell
said Friday, in part to pay for refrigerating water at a Shasta
fish hatchery where water levels are so low, and what’s left is
so warm, that federally protected salmon cannot survive.
Here’s the bad news: Despite days of precipitation,
California’s snowpack was barely boosted after a weekend of
storms that brought power outages, downed trees, thunderstorms
and a threat of tornadoes.
The weekend storm brought more than an inch of rain around the
Bay Area by Saturday evening and up to 2 feet of wet snow at
higher Sierra Nevada elevations near Lake Tahoe, but Northern
California’s largest drinking water reservoirs were still well
below average levels.
Gov. Jerry Brown said Friday that he remains reluctant to
impose mandatory water restrictions on Californians, saying the
state is doing “pretty well” conserving water voluntarily as it
enters a fourth year of drought.
The Great Almond Rush has brought billions to the state’s
economy. But it has also raised existential questions about
water rights, land use and development, the environment,
ethical food policy, fracking, job creation and this fertile
state’s responsibility to feed the world.
The federal government is making available up to $50 million in
drought-relief funds for western states, with the largest
portion earmarked for parched California, U.S. Secretary of the
Interior Sally Jewell and Gov. Jerry Brown announced Friday.
In a paper published online in the journal Nature on Wednesday,
[UC Riverside professor Sean] Cutler’s team showed that a
commonly used agricultural fungicide could activate a modified
receptor in tomato and mustard plants, making them much more
resilient in dry conditions.
Because of the lack of snow depth, the U.S. Forest Service
has asked snowmobile users in the Lake Tahoe Basin to
avoid bare dirt and patchy snow, and not to ride across streams
or over small trees and brush.
For the past four months, the Circle of Blue team, some
contracted photographers, and our various partners — Google,
Columbia University, NOAA, NASA, etc. — have been working hard
to bring you Choke Point: Index, a data-driven narrative out of
three U.S. locations: California’s Central Valley, the Great
Lakes, and the Ogallala Aquifer.
A wet December resulted in Southern California’s biggest water
savings – a whopping 23 percent compared with the year before –
and helped the state meet its conservation goals for the first
time since emergency measures were ordered last summer.
Southern Californians used 23 percent less water in December
compared with the year before, the most water saved since the
state declared a drought emergency last June, according to data
released Tuesday by the State Water Resources Board.
Anticipating such a dry future, in January the Public Policy
Institute of California (PPIC) brought together agency
officials, policy makers, and a variety of stakeholders came
together to discuss how the state could be made more resilient
to drought. … In this panel discussion, Chuck Bonham,
Director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife; Sandy
Matsumoto, The Nature Conservancy; Dr. Peter Moyle, Professor
of fish biology at UC Davis; and Tim Quinn, Executive Director
of the Association of California Water Agencies discuss how to
best manage ecosystems in a drought.
Californians had the opportunity to receive the message to save
water at least five times apiece in 2014 when the Save Our
campaign ramped into high gear due to the state’s drought,
delivering water conservation messages on television, radio,
social media, websites and even lawn signs.
For as long as I can remember, my days have begun with a hot
decaf and the morning paper, much of it filled with headlines
of man’s inhumanity to man. But more and more these days, those
headlines are sharing space with stories of man’s inhumanity to
For the first time since last June, when the State Water
Resources Control Board required the 411 largest cities and
water districts in California to issue monthly water use
reports, residents of the Los Angeles and San Diego areas
conserved more water than residents of the Bay Area: 23.2
percent vs. 21.6 percent.
A crack team of science experts is going along for the ride,
part of an experiment known as CalWater 2015, many of whom
gathered at McClellan Park near Sacramento on Tuesday in
preparation for the major weather event and the vital
information they hope to pull from the phenomenon.
December’s rains enabled Californians to finally meet Gov.
Jerry Brown’s call for a 20 percent reduction in monthly water
consumption, but more restrictions loom as the state adapts to
long-term drought conditions.
The state’s monthly water-use report card due Tuesday will
provide a look at how more than 400 local water agencies are
doing when it comes to water conservation efforts across
Today, snow sensors scattered through the Sierra, satellite
imagery and aerial flybys augment the 106-year-old “manual
survey.” The technology helps to provide a clearer update of
California’s water conditions that water agencies depend on to
perform the increasingly crucial job of managing our
diminishing water supply for the rest of the year.
On Tuesday, the State Water Resources Control Board is
scheduled to discuss whether to go beyond the current statewide
prohibitions on hosing down driveways and overwatering lawns,
and enact additional limits on outdoor water use such as
regulating times for sprinklers.
New rainfall figures released Monday show California is at 85%
of normal rainfall for this time of year, with an average of
23.1 inches of rain as of Monday, according to the state
Department of Water Resources.
The dry January was the topic of discussion Monday at a meeting
held by the Sonoma County Water Agency, which provides drinking
water to more than 600,000 residents in Sonoma and Marin
counties — relying exclusively on rainfall captured in two
Scientists from UC Berkeley and Oregon State University spent a
decade studying about 30 streams in the Madrean Sky Islands, an
arid landscape of canyons, cliffs and mountainous woodlands in
southern Arizona and northern Mexico.
Amid growing concern about global weather patterns, a rocket
roared into space Saturday carrying a NASA satellite that will
give scientists new tools to forecast weather, track drought
and monitor climate change.
January ended with a record temperature of 74 degrees Saturday
at Sacramento’s Executive Airport and almost no measurable
rainfall for the month – making it the driest January on record
since reliable records started being kept in 1849, the National
Weather Service said.
Felicia Marcus gets in the shower when it’s still cold. As
full-time chair of California’s State Water Resources Control
Board, Marcus has a key role in how California stewards its
finite resources during a devastating drought.
Earlier this month, the Public Policy Institute of California
held a half-day conference in Sacramento focusing on how the
state can manage through another dry year and become more
drought resilient. Is the current drought a sign of things to
come? Michael Anderson, state climatologist with the Department
of Water Resources, kicked off the PPIC conference, Managing
Drought, with a presentation addressing that question.
At the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) event,
Managing Drought, held earlier this month, Jane Doolan, a
professorial fellow of natural resource governance and a member
of Australia’s National Water Commission, discussed how the
Australian government responded to the extreme drought
conditions with policy initiatives that changed their water
entitlement system, supported water markets, and provided water
for the environment to head off catastrophic impacts to
sensitive species and ecosystems.
Traditionally California’s wettest month, January’s meager
rainfall has produced a miniscule improvement in the crucial
winter snowpack in the Sierra Nevada that historically provides
about 30 percent of the state’s water needs.
On Jan. 23, the State Water Resource Control Board issued a
Notice of Surface Water Shortage and Potential for Curtailment
of Water Right Diversions for the coming year. … While the
new Notice does not specify when such curtailment notices will
be issued to the affected water rights holders, it is expected
that the State Board will follow similar procedures as it did
in curtailing water diversions in 2014.
For the first time ever, San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento
have recorded no rainfall for the month of January — nada drop.
… Southern California has had better luck, enjoying a
couple of significant weather systems this month that came up
from the south.
The latest survey of California’s mountain snowpack on Thursday
brought the bad news slamming home: This month will rank as the
driest January in state history at many locations, virtually
assuring a fourth straight year of drought. On Thursday, the
statewide snowpack was 25 percent of normal for the date.
After receiving nearly 160 percent of normal rainfall in
November and December — thus causing Santa Cruz to suspend
mandatory water rationing for residential customers — the
driest January on record stands as a stark reminder of how
vulnerable the water supply is to nature’s mood swings.
California is working on a checklist to ease the pain of
three-year drought and make sure the state isn’t caught short
in the future. One of the items is “water storage,” better
translated as more dams.
On the eve of the January snowpack survey of the Sierra Nevada
Mountains, water management officials said Southern
California’s largest water wholesaler may need to institute
stricter water limits if winter precipitation does not improve.
As California caps what may be its driest January on record,
Frank Gehrke will lead a bevy of surveyors on Thursday to a
predetermined spot on Echo Summit in an exercise that has
become a monthly downer in the documentation of the state’s
With December’s deluge now a distant memory and a bone-dry,
unseasonably warm January coming to a close, even a wet
February and early spring likely won’t help the historic
drought conditions affecting Monterey County and the rest of
the state, according to a National Weather Service expert.
A little storm can come through and rain on Fresno records, but
I’m [Mark Grossi] driving at something else: This is winter in
capricious California. Wildfires, blizzards, killing frosts,
dry spells, howling wind, pleasant sunny days, drizzling storms
and fog happen in January.
In his inaugural speech, Gov. Jerry Brown promised to be a
national leader on environmental issues. If California wants to
pass big environmental policies, legislators need to look to
people of color to lead the way.
This month I [John Laird] start my fifth year as California’s
Secretary for Natural Resources. … Many major issues we face
are not chosen by us. Nothing better describes that than being
on point for the issues of water and fire amidst the three
driest years in California history.
The drought has spurred California to revive controversial
plans to build rock dams across three Delta waterways in an
effort to prevent seawater from degrading drinking water for 25
million people — including those in San Jose, Concord, and