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.
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
A Mill Valley home has been fitted with a series of pipes and
valves to send shower, sink and clotheswasher graywater to
landscaping in an effort to conserve limited supplies of fresh
water from Mount Tamalpais and the Russian River used by Marin
Firefighters halted the blaze early Monday before it could do
serious damage, but the evacuations punctuated a January that
is poised to go down as the driest in California history,
giving rise to summerlike conditions — including the threat of
wildfire — even as the Northeast is hit with a paralyzing blast
In some of the world’s driest places, atmospheric moisture is a
major source of water for native ecosystems. … Some
drought-minded California residents along the coast, perhaps
yearning for a clear ocean view, have suggested harvesting
fog as a water supply.
Although Soquel Creek Water District officials pulled the plug
last year on a $3 million mandated conservation program, the
agency soon will roll out some components of the initiative
designed to reverse groundwater overdraft.
California took enormous steps to address our water future by
passing a water bond and landmark groundwater laws last year,
but there’s more to be done. Lawmakers should look to reform
the California Environmental Quality Act to ensure we are using
water efficiently and sustainably.
Facing a fourth drought year and maybe the driest January on
record, farm water leaders hope storms are on the way, but they
saw a dry January last year and got no water from the federal
Central Valley Project. … In late February, the bureau [of
Reclamation] makes a forecast of summer water delivery.
The State Water Resources Control Board advised water rights
holders today [Jan. 23] that water diversions may be curtailed
in critically dry watersheds again this year if conditions do
not improve over the coming months.
Santa Barbara County water agencies announced Friday that they
will receive $2 million in state funding for a pumping project
at Cachuma Lake — a source of drinking water for 220,000 people
on the southern central coast — where water levels have dropped
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.