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.
California, its hand forced in 2014 by a nasty drought, brought
its groundwater laws out of the Gold Rush era and into line
with nearly every other state in the Union. New York’s
Democratic governor banned fracking for natural gas, in large
part because of concerns about water pollution.
One of the worst droughts on record forced California lawmakers
and voters to implement far-reaching initiatives intended to
change how the state manages water. And while the policy shifts
last year were remarkable, Californians did not achieve the
goal of conservation set by the governor.
Snow levels that didn’t quite measure up turned a snowshoe
party in the Sierra into an exercise in hand-wringing on
Tuesday as it became clear that recent storms have done little
to end California’s historic drought.
California’s drought declaration has triggered only local
limits such as restrictions on washing cars or watering lawns
for most communities, but one Pacific Coast tourist town has
seized it as an opportunity to build a long-desired
California’s drought really didn’t have an impact on me until
last January when my wife, Linda, and I went to Folsom Lake to
take our dog for a walk. Sure, I had seen that the American
River was low when driving across the Watt Avenue Bridge.
Measurements of Sierra Nevada snowpack on Tuesday [Dec. 30]
showed more snow than surveyors recorded a year ago. But state
water officials said it was far from enough to signal a
potential end to California’s continuing drought.
Billions of gallons of water have fallen on Los Angeles County
since last week. And much of that kept right on going —
out into storm drains, lost to the sea. Couldn’t we actually
use that water? Yes, and we do.
Authorities have recovered thousands of stolen archaeological
artifacts reportedly taken from Lake Oroville over the last 20
years. …State regulations, as well as other federal laws,
protect items of cultural significance from being removed from
I shared your confusion briefly last week. Readers called and
emailed, wondering if the drought had ended after two separate
news stories featuring the numbers 10 and 11 – each followed by
12 zeroes. We’re talking trillions of gallons of water.
People with professional expertise in California’s four-year
drought — plus those just looking for something new to worry
about — get it right about expecting too much from the recent
series of storms.
The coastal tourist town of Cambria, located just below Big Sur
and adjacent to Hearst Castle on California’s central coast,
will begin pumping about 300 gallons a minute of treated water
into the local aquifer this week. The new water source is part
of a controversial emergency solution—built just this fall—to
keep the community from running dry.
The Bay Area developed a warm glow Sunday on account of a
once-familiar friend known as the sun. … National Weather
Service forecasters reckon the fiery orb will be sticking
around until Christmas Eve.
I love this cartoon because it says so much about water and
droughts in California. Alan Marciochi drew this during
the 1976-77 drought. He knew what he was drawing. A farm boy
from Los Banos with a degree in biology, Alan worked for me
studying endangered Modoc suckers in remote northeastern corner
of California. His main stipulation in working for me was that
he had to have the melon harvest season free.
Scientists have assessed the scale of the epic California
drought and say it will require more than 40 cubic km of water
to return the US state to normal. The figure was worked out by
weighing the land from space.
There is a 75 percent probability of average or above-average
precipitation between January and the end of March for
California, according to a new report by federal scientists —
the first time in five years such a wet outlook has been
predicted in the state during the first three months of a year.
For the first time in five months, a majority of California is
no longer considered to be in an exceptional drought, the most
severe level possible under federal guidelines, the U.S.
Drought Monitor announced Thursday.
A round black tub sits in David Montijo’s front yard, on a bed
of gravel where his lawn used to be. … The plastic container,
about 8 feet in diameter, is full up with rainwater that
Montijo is collecting from his roof, the first of his Rain
It’s hard to think about a drought after considering the amount
of water we’ve seen this past week, but even if these storms
continue into the New Year, California is still dangerously
dry. That can only mean one thing: Southern California wants
A series of rainstorms — one of which was powerful and
destructive for residents statewide — helped deposit needed
moisture to California, but it’s going to take 11 trillion
gallons of water in storage to recover from the drought, NASA
scientists said this week.
Ebenezer Scrooge isn’t the only one to visit Christmas Past.
Every season our memory, however imperfect, whips out reminders
of oft-told tales from a lifetime of Christmases in the wilds
of the North Coast.
Somebody called this morning asking me if it was true that 10
trillion gallons of water had fallen on California in the last
several days, as reported by several news outlets. Yes, it’s
true a Florida meteorologist ran the numbers, figuring 1 inch
of rain per square mile is worth 17,378,742 gallons.
The latest in a string of storms noisily marched across
Southern California on Wednesday, hurling lightning bolts,
coating mountains with snow and unleashing downpours that
triggered a freeway-blocking mudslide before mostly moving on.
With a 14-year drought in the Colorado River basin showing few
signs of breaking, states along the river’s path are taking new
steps this month to ensure that Lake Mead — the Colorado River
reservoir that is the water source for much of the Southwest —
does not fail them.
NASA satellites that have been tracking California’s troubled
water supplies from space generated a first-ever estimate of
how much water the state needs to recover from the drought — an
astonishing 11 trillion gallons. In other words, a whole lot.
After California’s driest three years on record, there have
been few sounds as disturbing to water conservationists as the
whisk-whisk-whisk of automatic lawn sprinklers kicking on
directly behind TV reporters covering some of the state’s first
heavy downpours in years.
There’s no way of predicting if Mother Nature will continue to
shower the Bay Area when we turn the calendar to 2015, but this
month is shaping up to be one of the wettest Decembers in
decades — at least in some parts of the region.
The five federal and state agencies primarily involved in the
operation and regulation of the Central Valley Project and the
State Water Project have jointly released a draft Interagency
2015 Drought Strategy.
This was an unusually powerful “atmospheric river”
storm—California’s version of a hurricane—unmatched in
intensity since January 2008. … Beneath every headline about
the intensity of the storm will be the question: Is the drought
Despite the heavy storm that hit California last week –
complete with flooded creeks and mudslides, closed highways and
downed trees – it will take a lot more of the same to end the
drought. In fact, experts say it may take five or six more
storms like it to consider the drought over.
Is it over? We’re not talking about the storm that hit Northern
California and the Central Coast Thursday, inspiring
apocalyptic media coverage and leading to store shelves being
stripped of flashlight batteries and tarps.
As the biggest rainstorm in years slams into California, some
are wondering how much it will mitigate California’s epic
drought. The rain will definitely help. But by any measure, the
drought is far from over.
The powerful system was being fueled by a stream of tropical
moisture up to 400 miles wide and 3,000 miles long known as an
“atmospheric river.” … National Weather Service
forecasters issued a blizzard warning for parts of Northern
California – the first since Jan. 4, 2008 – and said the storm
overall could be the most “significant” since that year.
One storm does not end a drought as severe as this one,
meteorologists and water managers emphasized again Thursday.
But this storm and last week’s milder one have done something
very important: They have saturated the parched ground across
Northern California so much that rainfall is finally starting
to fill up the state’s dangerously low reservoirs as it runs
down streams, rivers and hillsides.
When a man of 91 is downright cantankerous and has been on his
land longer than most everyone else has been alive, he wastes
no time speaking his mind. So after his new neighbor started
sinking a well to plant a water-sucking almond orchard in the
middle of the worst drought he’d ever seen, James Turner
As the most severe winter storm in at least a half-decade bore
down on California on Tuesday, 3,000 miles away in Washington,
the House voted, largely along party lines, for a California
drought relief bill.
A dangerous storm system blamed for two deaths in Oregon,
thousands of power outages in Washington and flooded roadways
in the Bay Area that kept many from work and school pushed into
Southern California on Friday, causing mudslides and
In four decades of tending people’s yards, this year has been
[Alberto] Ortega’s roughest: Clients put off landscaping
projects, scaled back his duties or simply let their yards go
altogether, costing him thousands of dollars.
Mother Nature walloped Northern California early Thursday after
three years of drought, bringing a deluge of rain and heavy
winds that brought down trees, cut power and wreaked havoc on
the morning commute.
Heavy rains are predicted for California this week, and after
the extreme drought of the past few years, California welcomes
the moisture. But can there be too much of a good
thing? While drought is a significant natural hazard
Californians must contend with, the natural hazards of severe
weather and flooding are equally significant in the feast or
famine cycle of storms in California.
For years, the California Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown
squabbled over what should be in a multibillion-dollar water
bond. Finally, this summer, they agreed on a $7.5 billion
measure that won landslide approval in November. … Now
Congress needs the same epiphany on water legislation meant to
People with professional expertise in California’s four-year
drought — plus those just looking for something new to worry
about — get it right about expecting too much from last week’s
and this week’s storms.
With demand increasing across the West, Colorado is drawing up
a strategy to keep some of the trillions of gallons of water
that gushes out of the Rocky Mountains every spring – most of
which flows downstream to drought-stricken California, Arizona,
Nevada and Mexico. … [James] Eklund’s insistence on
Colorado’s water rights drew diplomatic responses from his
colleagues in other states on the eve of a Las Vegas meeting of
A new report on water governance and climate change through the
lens of the current California drought has just been released
by Stanford University’s Water in the West Program. This
report, authored by Water in the West visiting scholar
Jacqueline Peel and research analyst Janny Choy, summarizes the
insights, lessons and key findings of a workshop hosted by
Water in the West in September 2014, which brought together
participants who have played central roles in managing water
during California’s current drought.
This week, water leaders from Australia are meeting our
Californian counterparts in West Sacramento to discuss the
lessons from our long drought. … We applied a number of
techniques including conservation, water trading, stormwater
collection and on-site gray water reuse, but one of our more
tangible successes has been a $10 billion seawater desalination
program with the construction of six major plants in all five
mainland state capitals.
The storm predicted to strike Northern California starting
Wednesday night originated in the complex high-altitude wind
currents constantly whipping around the globe. … Snow levels
in the Sierra Nevada will be relatively high – around 5,500
feet – at least initially.
Despite early December rains, the East Bay Municipal Utility
District board voted unanimously Tuesday to augment its Sierra
reservoirs with water purchases from the Central Valley Water
Project and to pass on the cost to customers, if need be.
Ahead of a storm that is expected to drench the Monterey Bay
region, Santa Cruz officials announced Monday the temporary
lifting of mandatory residential water rationing and fines in
favor of maintaining voluntary conservation at drought-driven
Conservation and utilization of ever more efficient
technologies remains our most cost effective approach to
providing our growing population with adequate supplies. …
That’s why it is so frustrating that the city is poised to
permit 75 acres — 3.267 million square feet — of new turf for
the Heritage Oaks Memorial Park cemetery in the undeveloped
hills off McKean Road in southern San Jose.
Don’t blame man-made global warming for the devastating
California drought, a new federal report says. A report issued
Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
said natural variations – mostly a La Nina weather oscillation
– were the primary drivers behind the drought that has now
stretched to three years.
After three years of historically dry and hot weather, the
images of California’s drought have become familiar: empty
fields, brown lawns, dry stream beds. But for every one of
those scenes, there are other parts of the state where water
has been flowing freely and the effects of drought are hard to
Just days after promising to bring highly controversial water
legislation to the Senate through “regular order” in January,
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., appears poised to ram through
a bill in the last days of the session without public hearings
and widespread debate.
California homeowner associations would be required to allow
artificial turf in front yards under a bill recently proposed
by the San Diego County Water Authority. … Citing the growing
need to conserve water, the San Diego agency sponsored similar
legislation in 2010 and 2011.
House Republicans who have scrambled all year to complete a
California water bill throw a Hail Mary pass Tuesday, with
legislation that’s drawn a presidential veto threat and
resistance from the state’s two senators.
With a drought continuing to punish California, cities across
Santa Clara County are expanding their use of recycled water to
irrigate parks. But the water-saving step may put a local icon
at risk: redwood trees.
As California struggles through the drought, the first to
suffer are rural residents with shallow private wells and
limited incomes. They live in cabins in Modoc County, among the
golden rolling hills of Paso Robles, in the farmworker towns of
the San Joaquin Valley and a chaparral-covered valley in
northern Los Angeles County.
Facing dwindling water supplies, Western states are struggling
to capture every drop with dam and diversion projects that some
think could erode regional cooperation crucial to managing the
scarce resource. Against that backdrop, eight Western governors
meeting in Las Vegas this weekend will address regional water
issues, and water managers from seven states arrive next week
to work on ways to ensure 40 million people in the parched
Colorado River basin don’t go thirsty.
House Republicans intend to jam through a California
drought-relief bill early next week that would suspend some
state water rights and environmental law to maximize water
diversions from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
At the November meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council,
council members heard from numerous agency and water officials
on how the state has responded to the drought conditions. In
this final installment, Mary Scruggs from the Department of
Water Resources discusses the impact the drought has had on the
state’s groundwater resources, Mike Chotkowski with the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service discusses the drought’s impact on
Delta smelt and Central Valley wildlife refuges, and Tom
Gohring with the Sacramento Water Forum discusses the region’s
response to drought conditions.
Some water districts in the region have doubled the bounty for
customers who tear out their turf, offering $2 per square foot
– or more – to those who replace their sod with
Heavy downpours took a parting shot Thursday at California,
triggering flash floods that temporarily stranded more than
three dozen people in their cars in inland Riverside County as
the state took stock of the effects of days of steady
At lower elevations, Lake Tahoe still hasn’t donned its rich,
white winter coat. … But while they produced rain at the lake
itself, this week’s storms have transformed the mountains
ringing the lake into snow-capped beauties.
Brown lawns might seem like an extreme form of water
conservation, but now comes the first bill of the new
legislative session — from an assembly member named Brown —
that seeks to make brown lawns off-limits to local fines.
At long last, and thank goodness — the rain. … As much as we
need the rain, though, what Southern California and the rest of
the state really need is to refill our biggest reservoir — the
Sierra snowpack — because that’s where most of our water comes
This season, customers of Martin’s Living Christmas Co. won’t
be seeing as much of the classic Christmas pine, which requires
more water than spruce varieties and is more likely to brown in
the heat. … The company’s drought-conscious move comes as
Christmas tree growers struggle with the effects of the state’s
lack of rain.
A record-setting storm covering Southern California was
expected to begin tapering off Wednesday after triggering
dozens of evacuations and putting city crews in Ventura and Los
Angeles counties on alert for mudslides. … The storm
left Northern California sopping too.
This might be the only state in the nation where a rainy day —
complete with blinding sheets of water, shoe-sopping flooded
intersections and chalk gray skies — puts people in a good
mood. And with good reason.
Hours of downpours brought California some relief from a
devastating drought and produced few of the problems such as
flooding and mudslides that the long-awaited storm had
threatened – at least so far.
California’s commitment to water conservation in the face of
epic drought appears to have waned with the end of summer:
Statewide, water use was down 6.7 percent in October compared
with the same month in 2013. … The data were presented
Tuesday in Sacramento at a meeting of the State Water Resources
Control Board, which regulates water rights and usage.
You might think that in October with no real rain, we’d
conserve. Think again. While most of Southern California heeded
that message – decreasing water usage 1.4 percent – customers
of a handful of Orange County water suppliers actually
increased their consumption compared with last October,
according to data released Tuesday.
Troubling new numbers out Tuesday show that in October the
state reduced urban water use by just 6.7 percent compared with
the same month the year before. … The figures released by the
state’s water board and analyzed by this newspaper also showed
a dramatic difference in conservation between the north and
When TreePeople’s Andy Lipkis returned from Australia last
week, he couldn’t get out of his head the response people had
when he told them most of the rain that falls in Los Angeles
escapes to the sea.
State officials announced Monday that with the drought
persisting, water agencies can expect only 10 percent of their
full allotted amounts of water next year through the canals and
pipelines of the State Water Project.
Five years of drought has reduced Washoe Lake to little more
than a puddle, and Park Supervisor Jennifer Dawson says unless
the Sierra gets some moisture this winter, it could very well
be dry next year.
Behind the groves of orange trees and gated driveways in this
wealthy San Diego County enclave lie estates boasting
Gatsby-sized lawns, resort-style swimming pools, water falls
and even putting greens.
The State Water Project, which carries runoff from the
mountains of Northern California to much of the state, expects
to limit annual water deliveries to 10 percent of what is
requested in the coming year due to the prolonged drought.
Would your Thanksgiving table be ruined if the stuffing or side
dishes did not contain almonds? … Then why are our water
policymakers treating the almond farmers like they were
producing a life-sustaining staple?
The cherished coho salmon that historically wriggled their way
past beachgoers up Redwood Creek into Muir Woods vanished this
year and are now on the verge of extinction, prompting a
last-ditch attempt by fisheries biologists to save the
genetically unique species.
Councilman Bob Blumenfield helped break ground Monday on a
20,000-square-foot, drought-tolerant garden designed to serve
as a water-wise example for Angelenos amid the state’s
record-setting dry spell.
My partner DeEdda McLean and I had come to this area west of
Mexican Hat, Utah, to kayak across Lake Powell, a reservoir
formed by the confluence of the San Juan and the Colorado
Rivers and the holding power of Glen Canyon Dam, which lies
just over the border in Arizona. Yet in place of a majestic
reservoir, we saw only the thin ribbon of a reemergent river
channel, which had been inundated for most of the past three
decades by the lake.
For California water managers, 2014 has been one for the record
books. Reservoirs have dropped to near-record lows, surface
water deliveries have been slashed and some communities are
rationing water to keep supplies in reserve for next year. But
amid these challenging conditions, California voters opened the
door for long-term solutions when they passed Proposition 1 on
Water level at Lake Oroville, the second-largest reservoir in
the state water delivery system, is at 26 percent capacity and
is approaching its historic low set in 1977, state water
contractors announced Tuesday.
The severity of the current drought is sparking keen interest
in seeing how this past water year (October 2013–September
2014)—and more importantly, the past combination of years—ranks
in comparison to other droughts. As noted in a PPIC fact sheet,
this drought is one of the driest. What’s more, this drought is
so challenging because it has been very warm.
… Temperature plays an important role in exacerbating
water scarcity during drought.
A jury could decide Monday if resident Fernand Bogman will get
jail time or a fine for failing to water his lawn. The
homeowner is being charged with two misdemeanors for failing to
properly maintain his front yard and parkway space.
With rain falling in Humboldt County and winter fast
approaching, there’s a natural tendency for people to breathe a
sigh of relief, forget about the ongoing drought and turn their
attention to other pressing issues. But even with intermittent
showers and some moisture still hanging in the air, the drought
in California continues, and it’s unlikely to end any time
Whether Prop. 1 delivers on its promise, however, depends on
what happens next. One danger is that Prop. 1 will lull
Californians into believing that we have solved our water
troubles. We haven’t. Nothing that Prop. 1 can do will redress
the current drought.
I like recycling. I like innovative solutions to California’s
drought. … But while you’re hosing down those corn syrup
barrels, why don’t you also put some thought to how you can
phase out bottled water operations in California and other
How do engineers see the water glass in California? The same as
they did two years ago when this blog was first posted, though
with today’s drought the glass is perhaps down to a quarter
full — or three-quarters empty.
He [Lance Vetesy] owns Leland High Sierra Snow Play east
of Pinecrest. … Snow-making ability would all but guarantee
him a full season of business every year. … But in California
water law, nothing is simple.
Hours of steady rain Saturday from northern California’s third
winter storm in a week raised hopes that the state was moving
out of its driest three years in history – while still deeply
locked in drought.
Whether it’s cutting back to a five-minute shower, installing a
low-flow toilet or pulling up the front lawn, residents in Palm
Springs seem to have heard the drought message and have cut
back on their water use.
Thanks to California’s persistent drought, the city of Burbank
is resorting to “dirty” tactics in the fight to conserve water.
… The city recently joined the “Go Dirty for the Drought”
awareness campaign run by the Santa Monica-based environmental
organization Los Angeles Waterkeeper.
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission recently began
digging in and around Golden Gate Park in hopes of drawing
underground flows into the mix within the next two years. The
move is designed to increase and diversify the city’s water
reserves as California faces its worst drought in a generation.
At ski areas up and down the jagged peaks of the Sierra Nevada,
where California’s drought has hit historic proportions and the
broader threat of climate change hangs heavy over an industry
built on optimism, the man-made snow is flying. A couple of
resorts have managed to open a few runs.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s abrupt decision to yank a water bill
she had spent more than four months negotiating came just as
the California Democrat and Central Valley Republicans appeared
on the brink of a deal.
A trio of storms this week gave Northern California communities
an inch or more of rain. The weather also brought welcome
relief from the state’s long dry spell, but – no surprise – the
drought is by no means over.
Late Thursday morning, while the Capitol Hill spotlight was
pointed elsewhere, three Northern California congressmen paid a
quiet call on the state’s junior Democratic senator, Barbara
Boxer. They wanted to talk water.
The gnarled zinfandel grapevines on Rich Czapleski’s land have
borne fruit for more than 100 years, producing dark, intense
wines that exemplify the special growing conditions in this
coveted winemaking region. Over that time, the vines have
weathered some of California’s worst droughts — including the
last three years with little difficulty.
Following a year of record drought, water managers throughout
the west are searching for information and ideas to ensure a
reliable and sustainable water supply. To meet this growing
need for information, Bureau of Reclamation Principal Deputy
Commissioner Estevan López announced today [Nov. 19] that
Reclamation has awarded $9.2 million for 131 research projects.
With the continuation of California’s historic drought and the
recent passage of Proposition 1, the potential value of
additional water storage in the state is an area of vigorous
discussion. In a new study released today, we look at the
different roles of storage in California’s integrated water
system and evaluate storage capacity expansion from what we
call a “system analysis approach.”
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California on Thursday
pulled the plug on secret, high-stakes negotiations over a
water bill for her drought-plagued state, saying she and fellow
lawmakers will try again next year.
In an effort to address the drought on the household level,
California has teamed up with The Home Depot to distribute kits
to low-income residents, with about 2,000 being given to North
Coast tribes last month and now 400 more for drought-stricken
communities in Humboldt County.
In October of 2014, the Hamilton Project and the Stanford Woods
Institute for the Environment hosted a forum, New Directions
for U.S. Water Policy, which brought together government and
agency officials with policy experts to discuss the release of
new papers highlighting opportunities from improving water
management in the West.
Thousands of water users across California can again draw water
directly from streams after state officials Wednesday lifted
restrictions on one of the last major blocks of water rights,
imposed in June due to the drought.
Let’s consider the possibility that this drought we’re in could
last more than than just a few dry years. … Meanwhile, most
Californians live in cities designed, to a great extent, on the
promise of nearly endless water, imported from wetter parts of
the state via massive engineering projects like the California
State Water Project.
Dismissed only a few years ago by residents of California’s
second-largest city, San Diego is joining other California
cities that are taking a closer look at recycling wastewater
for drinking as the state suffers from severe drought.
It’s the dead of autumn and there’s no sign that the California
drought will ease up. When wells run dry the immediate answer
is to dig a new one, but they’re expensive. In some parts of
the state there’s been an uptick in water theft, but in Central
California many homeowners are turning to a legal water
solution that’s not dependent on city water lines.
As California’s drought has grown more extreme this year, so
have efforts to obtain water — some now veering toward the
criminal. Parched places like the East Bay hills have
experienced not only an increase in water thefts in recent
months, authorities say, but a bump in brazenness.
Horticulturalist Emily Green is really, really worried about an
unintended consequence of Southern California’s new
yard-watering restrictions in our long drought, one that could
put our outdoor lifestyles, our sense of place and even our
relatively temperate microclimates at peril.