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.
Two discussions that play a large role in the future of
California’s water systems begin this week. … The two
meetings are the highest profile examples of discussions that
are taking place in California communities large and small.
Residents are getting a sample of Santa Cruz County’s
summer-like weather this weekend as temperatures are expected
to reach into the 70s. … The weather is the latest stage of
the unseasonably warm and dry weather hovering around as
California enters its fourth year of drought.
Struggling sugar beet farmers in the San Joaquin Valley are
turning their crop into energy instead of sweetener. A
cooperative of nine sugar beet farmers just opened a
demonstration biorefinery south of Fresno.
The Turlock Irrigation District could cap water deliveries at
about 40 percent of the customary amount even if the rest of
winter brings average rain and snow. The district staff on
Tuesday night provided an initial look at the supply for 2015,
which is looking to be a fourth straight year of drought.
More than three years of drought has reduced reservoir storage
in California and groundwater supply. Some wine grape growers
in Amador County are worried the limited resource could make
this season more challenging.
A popular cross-country ski area near Lake Tahoe has
temporarily closed due to a lack of snow, and forecasters say
the lingering drought should persist or get worse in the months
ahead across most of California and Nevada.
The 862-acre mountain that rises to 8,200 feet — a relatively
small site by California standards — was the latest in two days
to ground operations as January temperatures climb to
near-record highs and weeks pass without wet weather.
Today, we face climate change as our biggest environmental
challenge, and these lands are more important than ever.
Drought and extreme weather already impact California’s
communities and economy; rising sea levels already erode our
Looking back on 2014, it’s hard not to feel despair for
California salmon. … There was, however, a startling
exception to the run of bad salmon news. On the Shasta River, a
lifeline for Siskiyou County cattle ranchers, more than 18,000
fall-run Chinook salmon returned from the ocean. That’s more
than double the return from the previous fall.
Stream gauges and monitoring wells are ready and waiting along
the San Joaquin River. Big money has been spent for the right
to let water flow through a private bypass. All that’s missing
now is water.
California’s drought crept in slowly, but it could end with a
torrent of winter storms that stream across the Pacific,
dumping much of the year’s rain and snow in a few fast-moving
and potentially catastrophic downpours.
For all the discussion of how the city, parks and golf courses
guzzle water, the lion’s share of L.A.’s supply is sucked up by
residential customers, according to data from the Los Angeles
Department of Water and Power.
A number of conversations are occurring in the U.S. House of
Representatives, and between the House and the U.S. Senate
(particularly Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford, Calif.) and Sen.
Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.)) to reintroduce a version of last
year’s drought legislation (H.R. 5781).
The saga of the California drought — possibly the most severe
in 1,200 years — may not be enough on its own to cause the
114th Congress to fork over billions in federal dollars for new
water projects that benefit the Golden State.
California’s ongoing drought marked a setback for five
important fish species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in
2014, including the Delta smelt, a signature native fish that
has often altered the course of state water policy.
The American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting is the world’s
largest convention for the Earth sciences. Every year in
mid-December, the Moscone Center in San Francisco’s
tech-booming South of Market district welcomes nearly 24,000 of
the world’s top scientists for a banquet of research and
debate. For five days I sampled widely from the AGU buffet,
looking for new insight into the ways in which water shapes
ecology and society.
Last year, as drought gripped California,
[Javier] Zamora’s bills for water and the electricity that
runs the pump at his well skyrocketed. But this year, he
invested in a new irrigation system that’s dramatically cutting
his costs and water consumption.
Despite December storms that prompted flood warnings and
brought more than eight inches of rain to areas of the
Tri-Valley, the much-needed precipitation did little to relieve
the drought’s impact on the former gravel quarry between
Livermore and Pleasanton.
The spike in air pollution signaled that Southern California
hasn’t met a long-stated goal of meeting the federal health
standard by 2015 for daily measures of this kind of pollution,
which is associated with health problems ranging from increased
asthma attacks to early deaths. For years, the region was on
track to meet the goal, but the ongoing drought meant fewer
rainy days that cleanse the skies.
You treat drought as a way of life, not an event to just get
through, said Jane Doolan, an Australian who helped that nation
craft the water policies that led Australia through a 20-year
drought. Doolan shared that viewpoint with some of the most
water wise people in California … at a conference
hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California.
Two Inland Empire water wholesale agencies, just like most
consumers, are tired of dealing with the impact of drought. …
The IEUA [Inland Empire Utilities Agency] and the San
Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, are working to
increase local supply reliability through future projects in
the next decade.
California’s drought has made it abundantly clear how important
it is to know exactly how much water is available. …
Scientists from the Desert Research Institute in Reno, the
California Department of Water Resources and the US Bureau of
Reclamation are placing a floating weather station in the water
at Folsom Lake.
We learned last week that Santa Clarita Valley residents and
businesses are doing well in the water-saving department, at
least compared to numbers last fall, and that we’re doing
better than most other communities in California.
A new report out of the State Water Resources Control Board
found that despite calls from the governor to reduce water use
by 20 percent, state residents are stuck at around 10 percent.
And that’s looking at the numbers in a positive way.
The value of California’s rice harvest in 2012 was $770
million. The almond harvest’s worth was $4.3 billion. But which
is more valuable: a rice field or an almond orchard? Which is
more worthy of our vital resource, water?
Two months ago, in the grip of a historic drought, California
voters overwhelmingly approved a $7.5 billion water bond to
fund everything from new storage projects to modernizing
drinking water treatment plants.
California policymakers have done about all they can to deal
with the state’s historic drought: urge residents to use less
water, pass a bond with money for more storage facilites, cross
their fingers that Mother Nature will soon relent.
Trying to be more inviting to families with children, the
Renaissance Indian Wells is considering building a water park
and some residential villas at the resort off of Highway 111.
… ”A red flag goes up for me when a water park is being
proposed and we’re in the middle of a drought,” [Councilman
Dana] Reed said.
A tractor rumbled over 2 acres of green turf last month at the
MillerCoors brewery, its mechanical rake leaving wide swaths of
thirsty grass chomped up in its wake. … For its water-saving
efforts, the beer company is scheduled to receive a check for
about $187,000 from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern
California through the agency’s turf replacement rebate
Looking to cultivate technical innovation and address vital
water-supply issues facing drought-stricken California, the
newly formed Innovation Hub San Joaquin board announced
Thursday its H2O Hackathon to be held March 27-28 in Stockton.
First and last, the year’s biggest story was California’s
historic drought, which forced down reservoirs and ground water
to unprecedented lows, turned off the taps to farms and
businesses – and even at least one small town – and ultimately
persuaded voters in November to approve a multibillion-dollar
waterworks bond that included $2.7 billion in new storage.
Driven by climate change and a persistent ridge of high
pressure over the Pacific Ocean that caused California’s
drought, 2014 was the state’s hottest year ever recorded.
… On Monday, California Gov. Jerry Brown made climate
change a centerpiece of his inaugural address.
After three years of drought, water shortages and the impact on
agriculture show that California’s system of delivering water
is troubled. The voter-approved $7.5 billion water bond will
help. But whoever replaces Boxer must be steeped in water
policy and able to deliver federal aid back home.
California not only sweated through its hottest year on record
in 2014 but obliterated the previous mark by nearly 2 degrees,
federal scientists said Thursday, while experiencing firsthand
some of the worst fears of a warming planet — from intensified
drought to melting snowpack.
Thanks to December’s downpour, 1.3 million East Bay residents
expecting to see a 14 percent hike in their water bill this
month are getting a break — for now. The East Bay Municipal
Utility District has postponed its emergency plan to pump
Sacramento River water to local reservoirs as insurance against
a prolonged drought.
Sacramento plodded through its hottest year on record in 2014,
with an average high temperature a full degree above the city’s
next-hottest year, according to a Bee analysis of records from
the National Climatic Data Center.
For a while there, it felt like it might rain forever, or at
least long enough to deliver a much-needed blow against the
current drought. Well, those welcome, wet days brought on by a
series of Pineapple Express storm systems have pretty much
faded into the weather almanac, pushed aside by a familiar
bully — the dreaded thermal inversion layer.
Humboldt County municipal water providers were nearly on par
with water conservation efforts statewide in November with a
nearly 10 percent reduction compared to the same month last
year, according to a report from the State Water Resources
California’s almond orchards have been thriving over the past
decade and now provide an $11 billion annual boost to the state
economy. … But the growth coincides with another record
development here — drought — and the extensive water needs of
nut trees are posing a sharp challenge to state water policy.
Pat yourself on the back, but don’t stop saving water. …
Overall, November marked the first month that all San Joaquin
communities registered major savings — though many still fell
short of Gov. Jerry Brown’s 20 percent goal.
Wet weather at the end of last year helped Californians tame
their insatiable demand for water, but consumption —
particularly in Southern California — remains well above Gov.
Jerry Brown’s target for the drought-stricken state.
The California Department of Water Resources does a great job
assembling data that can give insights on water conditions
during the ongoing drought. They update the information daily
(which can be addictive for some of us) on the California Data
Exchange Center website.
A cold snap this week brought snow and freezing temperatures to
much of California during the final days of the year, but for
the most part 2014 was hot. In fact, it was the warmest year
for California since record-keeping began in 1877.
The only answer to the question of when the drought will end is
that there’s no sure answer. … The major reservoirs in
Northern California are below historical averages, but they are
above the levels from 2014, which is cause for cautious
optimism for some northern state water contractors.
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.