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.
People don’t easily forget the moment the water dies. … In
this corner of the scorched Tulare Lake Basin, where lives and
livelihoods depend on water that comes from the ground, a human
crisis is accelerating amid California’s unrelenting drought.
When Edmund G. Brown Sr. was governor of California, people
were moving in at a pace of 1,000 a day. … He was the
boom-boom governor for a boom-boom time: championing highways,
universities and, most consequential, a sprawling water network
to feed the explosion of agriculture and development in the dry
reaches of central and Southern California.
What do you do when you have 30 million young salmon ready for
their big journeys downstream, but drought and development have
dried your riverbeds to sauna rocks? In California this year,
you give the fish a ride.
The U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday a series of recent
storms have dropped up to four times the normal weekly rainfall
in some areas of the West. However, three-quarters of the
region remains in a long-term drought.
California’s historic drought is so bad people are banned from
even hosing dirt off their front steps, but as iconic
Candlestick Park is being demolished, thousands of gallons an
hour of drinking water — fresh from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir
— are being dumped on the rubble to hold down dust.
Environmental groups have long taken aim at bottled water
companies for contributing to the glut of plastic bottles that
clog landfills, streams and waterways. Now, amid California’s
drought, they’re looking at the water itself.
The Bureau of Reclamation and water users in California’s
Central Valley have forged an agreement that will bring some
much-needed Central Valley Project water supplies to farmers in
the CVP’s Friant Division this summer. … Weeks of
negotiations involving nearly all Friant Division contractors,
the Exchange Contractors, Westlands Water District, Reclamation
and other agencies paid off in an agreement reached May 7.
The state’s oil and gas agency has missed the deadline for
reporting on the use of water by oil producers in California,
saying that the large volume of information required could not
be processed in time.
In a wide field along a narrow two-lane road in the town of El
Centro, the grass is tall and rusty brown. … It’s a lush
wheat field, in tiptop health, today getting harvested by a guy
riding one of those big green combines.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is hoping to
foster partnerships with Sonoma County landowners in four
critical coho salmon spawning watersheds to help juvenile fish
survive a fourth year of drought.
The San Joaquin Valley’s tainted air might be getting an extra
dose of soot and ozone-forming gases this spring as growers
wrestle with the woody waste from dead citrus orchards. …
It’s more drought expense and woe in this broad farm belt where
thousands of growers for the second straight year have lost
river irrigation water for an area six times the footprint of
Even as they cope with their own cutbacks, several Sacramento
Valley water agencies are contemplating major water sales to
huge farming interests south of the Delta. … While the
dollars are tempting, area officials say water sales are also a
means of helping their fellow Californians.
Many of us could use a refresher course in California geography
as we debate how to manage the drought and prepare for an
uncertain water future. For starters, calling the hardest-hit
farm region the Central Valley is much too simplistic.
California water managers, reacting to the state’s increasingly
dire four-year-old drought, have taken an uncommon step to
ensure the quality of the fresh water flowing through
California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a vital estuary that
supplies drinking water to southern California communities and
irrigation water to Central Valley farmers.
Pressed by the four-year dry spell and state-mandated water
cuts, some of the finest courses in California are taking such
steps as tearing out the grass in places where it won’t affect
the game, planting drought-resistant vegetation, letting the
turf turn brown in spots and installing smart watering systems.
The picture of the drought is bleak. Water managers told
lawmakers almost 2,000 wells are dry. They’ve observed
groundwater levels drop by more than two feet in over 40
percent of measured wells this spring.
Facing resistance to sweeping mandatory restrictions approved
last week for urban water districts, California water board
Chair Felicia Marcus defended the cuts as a matter of
“self-interest” at a Senate hearing on Tuesday.
California’s drought emergency woes have worsened, with a
shortage on the Colorado River next year becoming increasingly
likely. Odds of a shortage rose from 33 percent to 50 percent
from April 1 to May 1, Metropolitan Water District, Southern
California’s largest water wholesaler, said Monday.
The Obama administration and Interior Department officials have
been absent as Californians grapple with the drought. They seem
content to plan and promote surface-water projects that won’t
contribute a drop of water for 20 to 25 years and will cost
taxpayers billions of dollars.
The water rationing plan, unveiled late Monday by the San Jose
Water Company, will make San Jose the largest city in
California so far to embrace strict rationing as the drought
drags into its fourth year.
A private water bottling company will soon be sucking up
thousands of gallons a day from an aquifer that feeds the
Sacramento River, the primary source of drinking water for
millions of thirsty Californians struggling to cope with a
The drought shaming started at the top last month, when Gov.
Jerry Brown, announcing water restrictions from a barren meadow
in the Sierra Nevada, mocked “the idea of your nice little
green grass getting lots of water every day.”
With drought impacts in full effect, some water agencies are
looking at desalination as way to improve water supplies. Now
the state Water Resources Control Board has passed an amendment
to its codes requiring new or expanded seawater desalination
plants to use the best available technology to protect all
forms of marine life.
“Less watering — less growth,” Public Utilities Director Thomas
Esqueda says. The result could be a blow to City Hall’s efforts
to meet state guidelines for solid-waste recycling and landfill
It’s hard to imagine a California summer without long days
lounging by the pool. But as unprecedented drought sears the
state, the backyard swimming pool has become a target for
cities desperate to save water.
Blessed by its perch at the confluence of two major rivers, the
Sacramento region has grown for generations in sprawling style,
confident that water would be there in ample supply. Even now,
amid a historic drought that has prompted deep, state-mandated
water cuts for urban users, capital area leaders show no sign
of backing off their plans for another major growth surge.
The acrid tap water that flowed for several days last month
into thousands of East Bay homes, prompting a flurry of
complaints about its bad taste and smell, will be making an
extended comeback starting next week — perhaps through the
year, or longer.
Local water suppliers and cities could now face major cuts in
revenue from water sales after the State Water Board approved a
set of drought regulations this week that seek to achieve a 25
percent in water use throughout the state.
Last month, after Gov. Jerry Brown ordered Californians to cut
back their water use, a retired engineering professor in Carmel
revived a decades-old proposal for easing the drought:
icebergs. … The suggestion was dutifully filed away in a
database of drought-relief ideas sent from around the state and
nation, compiled since the beginning of last year.
A permit application for the slide said the inflatable requires
16,000 gallons of water. … But Ryan Johnson, Slide the City
owner for events in Northern California, said it’s possible the
slide that comes to Redding may only need to use 10,000 gallons
of water, which would be trucked in from either Idaho or
With hot summer months around the corner and new conservation
rules taking effect, Gov. Jerry Brown and other officials
Wednesday called on Californians again to radically cut their
water use in cities and towns to cope with the drought.
The head of the U.S. Forest Service warned Tuesday of an “above
average” fire season that could cost the agency more than $1
billion and require shifting funds from programs designed to
Gov. Jerry Brown may prove to be the greenest government
official in American history — emphasis on “may.” … But Brown
continues to support fracking in the state’s oil patch, and oil
production increases. … And even worse, fracking in a
time of drought is a remarkable obscenity.
State data released Tuesday painted a stark portrait of the
uphill struggle Californians face in achieving a mandated 25%
reduction in urban water use, with one official joking grimly
that dealing with severe drought was similar to grappling with
the five stages of grief.
Bringing California’s historic drought directly to every home
and business in the state, the administration of Gov. Jerry
Brown on Tuesday imposed the first mandatory urban water
conservation rules in state history.
California regulators unanimously adopted emergency drought
regulations Tuesday that for the first time will require tens
of millions of Californians and tens of thousands of businesses
to sharply reduce water use, a response to the state’s
unprecedented and deepening drought.
Cal Fire says four years of drought and the timing of the rains
this spring have combined to make 2015 the worst fire
conditions on record. About a dozen fire chiefs kicked off
Wildfire Awareness Week in Pollock Pines on Monday.
Last month, the State Water Resources Control Board ordered
Mission Springs Water District, which serves Desert Hot
Springs, Whitewater and several unincorporated Riverside County
communities, to cut its water usage by 32 percent. … Mission
Springs has appealed the order, arguing that it doesn’t account
for the significant cuts its users have made in the past few
An emergency $6.7 million plan to make the State Water
Project’s California Aqueduct flow backward for roughly 100
miles to bring water from the Bakersfield area to Silicon
Valley has been shelved for this year.
For Californians with traditional water meters, conservation is
more or less a guessing game as they await their monthly bill
detailing usage. But some utilities have done away with the
guesswork by installing smart meters, which provide customers
with real-time consumption data.
Based on precipitation, snowpack, and recent runoff, the Los
Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) has run its
forecasting equations and issued its runoff forecast: 19% of
average runoff is expected for April–September, and 25% over
the next year—assuming median precipitation falls. 2015
April–September runoff is not only going to be less than 1977,
the driest year on record—it is expected to be less than half
of 1977’s runoff.
Golf courses in the Coachella Valley and elsewhere that rely on
private wells will have to reduce water use by 25% or limit
watering to twice a week as part of the governor’s mandate for
cutbacks. But the courses will not have to report their water
usage, meaning compliance is largely on the honor system.
Even as [Gov. Jerry] Brown rations water for urban lawns,
computer manufacturing and toilets, California continues to
dedicate enormous amounts of water to producing energy. This
year, 1.3 billion gallons of water are being injected into
oil fields to extract heavy crude — 320 gallons for every
barrel of oil pumped.
Chalk it up as yet another consequence of the drought. The
Stockton East Water District, which sells drinking water to
Stockton, experienced a rare water-quality violation at its
treatment plant east of town.
With dead almond trees propped on the Capitol steps and school
children clutching signs that read “We need water. Build
storage now!”, advocates for new dams and reservoirs in
California offered a striking set of visuals in Sacramento last
The $35 billion bill includes money for the California status
quo, ranging from Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta restoration to
operations of the sprawling Central Valley Project. It also
includes drought-related language, with directives to speed
completion of water storage project studies.
When California’s State Water Resources Control Board announced
last month that it was basing its orders for mandatory water
cutbacks on each community’s per capita water use, it elevated
a somewhat obscure figure into the spotlight: residential
gallons of water used per person per day.
An entrepreneur attempting to pioneer the shipment of large
volumes of water from an Alaskan town to thirsty global markets
claims his company is a step closer after signing a contract to
deliver 10 million gallons per month to a buyer in dry
The peak of the Lake Tahoe wildflower season is typically
somewhere around the middle of July, but, with remaining snow
melting away and water in scarce supply, area blooms are off to
an early start and may not last long.
If you’re caught wasting water in California, the most you can
be fined right now is $500 a day. Governor Jerry Brown wants to
raise the maximum penalty 20 times that amount – to $10,000 per
California businesses and residents that waste the most water
as the state copes with a drought should face $10,000 fines,
Gov. Jerry Brown said, as his administration rejected calls
from cities to relax its mandatory water conservation targets.
On Tuesday, the board of the East Bay Municipal Utility
District, or EBMUD, unanimously authorized district staff to
negotiate the purchase of up to 21,000 acre-feet of Sacramento
River water from the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District, Sycamore
Mutual Water Co. and Reclamation District 1004 outside of
A revised draft of water conservation regulations released
Tuesday night by the State Water Resources Control Board
offered little reprieve to Sacramento-area communities that had
pushed back against mandated cutbacks of up to 36 percent.
For California, Arizona and Nevada, which draw water from
[Lake] Mead, a grim situation is about to get worse: Officials
estimate that Mead will drop to the unprecedented low elevation
of 1,073 feet as the hottest summer months bear down, with less
snowpack in the Rocky Mountains to recharge the Colorado River.
State water regulators are set to release on Tuesday an updated
plan for conservation during the drought after their previous
water-use reduction targets have come under fire from some
local water departments.
With one emergency water supply already flowing in, the East
Bay’s largest water district plans to buy three others to
bolster its drought defenses. The East Bay Municipal Utility
District board on Tuesday will consider authorizing the
purchase of up to 21,000 acre feet of water from three Northern
California suppliers with water to spare.
The permit that the bottled water company Nestle is using to
pipe water out of a national forest lists an expiration date of
1988, and it’s just one of hundreds of permits that the U.S.
Forest Service has allowed to fall out-of-date in
Heading into the fourth summer of drought, water agencies are
looking for ways to get Californians to conserve at home. …
Opinion asked nine water experts what needs to change about how
California handles its water.
From their homes along Horseshoe Road east of Oakdale,
residents can’t help but notice the prominent mast of a
well-drilling rig atop the hill to the west. … Like so many
other wells in the area, it will pump water from deep in the
ground to feed orchards.
South Tahoe Public Utilities District’s (STPUD) hope to have
mandatory water reductions reduced drowned on April 17 when the
State Water Resources Control Board released revised numbers of
California’s water districts.
With more than 38 million people, a multibillion-dollar
agricultural industry and a complex water system that relies on
multiple sources, including the Colorado River, California’s
problems are of a different magnitude than those Southern
Nevada faced. But the steps taken here offer a road map to
making the most out of every drop of water.
For some, the practice of dry farming — where natural rainfall,
not irrigation, is used exclusively to produce a crop — is
rooted in history. Yet, it is relevant to modern times as Napa
wines that won the historic 1976 Paris tastings were all dry
The fierce drought that is gripping the West — and the imminent
prospect of rationing and steep water price increases in
California — is sharpening the deep economic divide in this
state, illustrating parallel worlds in which wealthy
communities guzzle water as poorer neighbors conserve by
Could the technology used in Israel that successfully turned
the country’s water shortage into a surplus be implemented in
California to ease the state’s drought? KQED Public Media
reporter Daniel Potter joins Alison Stewart via Skype from San
Francisco to discuss.
Battles have also commenced over solutions, with proposals for
desalination plants, tunnels and new storage projects competing
for priority. Each merits exploration, but none can be
implemented quickly enough to address our crisis. We can do
better by focusing on strategies within our grasp, starting
As Californians face deepening cuts in water usage because of
the drought, critics are raising concerns about tens of
millions of gallons of Sacramento municipal water being tapped
by a local plant that bottles and resells it at a profit.
Earlier this year, the State Water Resources Control Board
ordered more than 1,000 property owners to prove their water
rights. This month, the board warned claim-holders to expect
curtailments of their ability to divert water from rivers and
The drying power of a four-year drought is steadily shifting
day-to-day expectations, challenging traditional norms,
breaking apart business and social conventions, and compelling
people in Santa Barbara and across California to confront new
ecological conditions so powerful that behaviors thought
completely normal and acceptable are now starting to be viewed
In the wake of zero water allocations again this year, Ronald
D. Jacobsma has stepped down as general manager of the Friant
Water Authority, representing 13 water districts on the San
Joaquin Valley’s east side. Jacobsma’s separation from the
authority follows the departure of eight water districts over
differences with the board of directors.
Anglers, many with Trout Unlimited, were catching with rod and
reel in an effort with the California Department of Fish and
Wildlife to relocate the stranded fish to a more suitable
habitat. … Tuesday marked the first time CDFW did a fish
relocation effort at Fanny Bridge.
Alarmed that some cities have fined residents for allowing
their lawns to turn brown during the drought, the state
Assembly passed a bill Thursday that would prohibit penalties
for failing to water grass.
Spurned at the ballot box three years ago and facing an even
more uphill battle now because of California’s historic
drought, an environmental group has filed a lawsuit attempting
to drain Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, a linchpin of the water supply
for 2.6 million Bay Area residents from San Francisco to San
Jose to southern Alameda County.
About 1,500 farms and individuals in the Central Valley were
ordered Thursday to stop taking water from rivers and streams
for irrigation, the latest move by state regulators to save
water amid intensifying drought conditions. … About 100 farms
along the Scott River watershed in rural Northern California
were also ordered to stop diverting water.
William Shatner generated modest buzz when, in an interview
with Yahoo’s David Pogue last week, he proposed a Kickstarter
fund-raising campaign to build a $30 billion pipeline to bring
water to drought-ravaged California.
The State Water Resources Control Board (“State Board”) has
just issued two water diversion curtailment orders that affect
water diversions on the San Joaquin and Scott rivers. The
curtailment notices direct all post-1914 water right holders
within the San Joaquin River watershed and junior priority
class right holders in the Scott River watershed to cease
surface water diversions until further notice.
While the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began releasing Lewiston
Dam water into the Trinity River on Wednesday as part of an
ongoing restoration project, Humboldt County and the Hoopa
Valley Tribe are seeking for the agency to make another release
later this year to prevent fish-kill conditions.
With California ravaged by an epic drought, state-run
facilities collectively cut water use 22 percent last year,
according to government data released Wednesday, although some
departments used far more than in 2013.
SWIIM, which stands for Sustainable Water and Innovative
Irrigation Management, seeks to streamline the water transfer
process, selling its service to farmers and water districts.
Already operating in Colorado, the startup is working with
Western Growers, a trade group, to start pilot programs in Kern
County, the Sacramento Valley, the Imperial Valley and
Coachella Valley this year.
In a tech-obsessed state that’s part desert, creating new
technologies to save or clean water should be a no-brainer. …
As water agencies scramble to make deep cuts after another dry
winter, water tech may finally get its moment.
Representatives of the Placer County Water Agency, San Juan
Water District, city of Roseville and Sacramento County Water
Agency, in a joint letter, took exception to being lumped in
with communities that don’t have strong water rights under
California law and largely import their water from other
The decision, approved in a 3-2 vote, aligned with results of a
recent [Soquel Creek Water] district phone survey of 300
customers, 90 percent of who said they were already doing
everything they could to conserve water and who were less
supportive of mandatory water rationing and penalties.
Farmers enjoying cheap water prices will pay more money for
less water this year, the Oakdale Irrigation District board
decided Tuesday. For the first time in 105 years, OID will
restrict water amounts, and as they did last year, farmers will
pay a $6.10-per-acre drought surcharge.
As the historic drought drags on and Californians turn their
attention to using less water, the Salton Sea continues to
shrink — as do the chances of finding near-term solutions for
revitalizing the ailing lake.
For nearly 25 years, the desal plant has sat unused. That’s
about to change. As nearby beachgoers swam, sailed and paddle
boarded on an overcast morning last week, Santa Barbara
officials showed off those tanks and pumps, describing their
plan to turn seawater into drinking water.
“It’s the most significant ecological emergency in the
United States since the Dust Bowl,” says Keith Schneider,
senior editor of Circle of Blue, a news outlet that covers
the global water crisis. … That’s why he suggests
California look to Australia for some answers.
After hearing concerns from a coalition of local water
suppliers and policy makers on the newest set of drought
regulations, the State Water Resources Control Board included a
clause within its draft rules that would ease up water mandates
for areas with prolonged, ample water supplies.
Federal and state agencies along with Sacramento River
Settlement Contractors (SRSCs) agreed this week on an
integrated framework of actions for Central Valley
Project/State Water Project operations for mid-April through
November. The actions will flexibly manage and operate the
system to serve multiple beneficial purposes that include water
for cities and rural communities, farms, fish and wildlife and
their habitats in the Sacramento Valley. The suite of actions
will also help provide water for areas of the state that are in
dire need of additional water supplies.
Not just during drought but even in times of normal
precipitation, there is something absurd about taking precious
drinking water — imported at great cost from environmentally
fragile areas hundreds of miles away, pumped over the mountains
using enormous amounts of energy, filtered, treated and tested
so as to be safe for human consumption — and spraying it on
lawns and flowers.
The revised conservation mandates unveiled by state water
regulators Saturday would require most Sacramento-area
communities to make even bigger cuts in water use than
originally proposed, disappointing area leaders who argue the
state should take into account the region’s hot weather and
large lot sizes.
In a further sign of a drought of historic intensity, flow from
a diminished Boca Reservoir into the Truckee River halted
Thursday. … The Truckee River Basin’s snowpack Thursday was
measured at 15 percent of normal for this time of year. The
Carson River Basin’s was at 1 percent.
The state water board has modified its proposed conservation
regulations in an attempt to incorporate feedback from
urban water suppliers, interest groups and members of the
public who had roundly criticized its framework.
Gov. Jerry Brown used an Earth Day celebration at Sonoma
County’s Iron Horse Vineyards on Sunday to applaud California’s
environmental leadership and reassure residents the state will
survive its historic four-year drought by tapping its
reservoirs of innovation and creativity.
In an acknowledgment that some areas have done a better job of
conserving water during California’s severe, and worsening
drought, state water officials on Saturday rolled out a revised
water-reduction plan that eases required cutbacks for some
communities while increasing mandatory targets for others.
As California inches closer to implementing its first mandatory
statewide limits on water use, Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday
said he won’t relax the new rules following complaints from
some cities that they’re too tough.
Farmers along the Sacramento River who have long-time water
rights will receive 75 percent of their historic supply again
this year. Last year cutbacks occurred as well for these
growers, known as Sacramento River settlement contractors.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s call for mandatory water reductions is not
sitting well with some Californians, particularly those in the
crosshairs of a sweeping plan to make the state’s biggest
guzzling communities trim the most. … The state plan is
scheduled to be finalized Friday and adopted the first week of
Representatives of the state’s almond farmers defended the
decision to expand California’s orchards, saying growers with
adequate water supplies are making rational economic decisions
based on the price they can get for their crop.
For the first time since the drought of the late 1970s, state
officials will fill a Delta channel with rocks to block
saltwater from creeping farther inland later this year. The
state Department of Water Resources considered building three
such emergency barriers last year, but spring rains rendered
One key source of conflict over the Sacramento–San Joaquin
Delta is the competition over who gets to use the water. …
New data from the 2014 water year illustrate the tough
trade-offs California faces.
Reflecting optimism about this year’s abundance of chinook
salmon, fishing industry regulators on Wednesday approved the
longest commercial season in more than a decade. But the
state’s record drought has darkened the long-term outlook for
one of California’s most valuable fish.
Communities in California’s seared Central Valley and arid
mountain foothills are expected to end this year’s rainless
summer with drinking water supplies so tight that they may give
out by September, according to state and local water
administrators. … The work to develop new water supplies and
to use existing water resources in new ways is testing
California’s resolve and is steadily evolving into dramatic
political battles that, for the time being, focus on water in
the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the state’s hydrologic choke
The California Water Commission came to Fresno on Wednesday to
collect comments on how to spend $2.7 billion in bond money for
water storage projects. The message the commissioners heard was
loud and clear: build Sites Reservoir and Temperance Flat dam.
More than 200 letters leveling criticisms at a plan to force
Californians to slash urban water use by 25% make it clear just
how difficult it will be for regulators to enforce Gov. Jerry
Brown’s unprecedented mandate.
California’s punishing drought has fallowed farmland and
yellowed front lawns, yet it will have little noticeable impact
on the state’s overall economy or government revenue, at least
in the short term, according to a new report by the
Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal analyst.
About 30,000 juvenile coho salmon may be doomed by the drought
as Sonoma County streams shrink and become disconnected from
the Russian River, trapping the young fish in pools that will
dry up or degrade over the long, hot summer, experts say.
As an unprecedented drought tightens its grip on California,
completion is near for the $1 billion Carlsbad Desalination
Project that is expected to supply 7 to 10 percent of San Diego
County’s drinking water by the end of this year.
The agency that typically provides Southern California with
about half its water supply tightened the spigot Tuesday when
its board voted to cut regional deliveries by 15%. … It
follows Gov. Jerry Brown’s unprecedented order
directing Californians to slash urban water use by 25%
compared with 2013 levels.