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.
Despite previous vows of close monitoring, State Water Resources Control Board leaders said they expect independent researchers – such as environmental groups, journalists and other members of the public – to scrutinize water suppliers’ data that the board posted online Tuesday.
Under fire from water agencies who were losing millions of dollars in lost water sales, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration two months ago dropped all mandatory water conservation targets and allowed cities, water districts and private water companies across the state to set their own targets.
State officials will not force most California water districts to reduce water use this year, even as they caution that the five-year drought persists and note that drought-fueled wildfires continue to wreak havoc.
The ferocious spread of the Clayton fire offers fresh evidence of how five years of unrelenting drought in California leave the state particularly vulnerable to destructive wildfires this year. Wildfires this year have already burned more than 360 square miles and destroyed more than 400 homes and other structures.
While Lake County has suffered more than its share of devastation in the last 12 months from wildfires, this weekend’s destructive Clayton Fire has been one of the few blazes to cause major damage in Northern California this fire season.
Surrounded by barren brown hills and cracked, dry clay, San Luis Reservoir was so empty this week that the nearly milelong, meandering path from the old high-water mark to the waterline could have doubled as a set in the post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” film franchise.
Robert Haskins walked across a vast expanse of cracked mud, littered with old beer bottles and millions of tiny clam shells, that in most Augusts would be 50 feet underwater. But the San Luis Reservoir, the vast inland sea along Highway 152 that is a key part of Silicon Valley’s water supply, is only 10 percent full, its lowest level in 27 years.
State leaders are paying attention. Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency. More than 80 federal, state and local agencies, electric utilities and other organizations have formed the Tree Mortality Task Force, co-chaired by Pimlott, to combat the problem.
Californians are continuing to save significant amounts of water despite the decision by Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration to relax drought rules two months ago. Statewide, urban residents cut water use 21.5 percent in June, compared with the same month in 2013, the year the state has been using as a baseline, according to new data released Tuesday.
In a paper published Monday in Geophysical Research Letters University of Southern California post-doctoral research associate Pouya Vahmani and USC civil and environmental engineering professor George Ban-Weiss analyze what would happen to the city’s overall temperature during the month of July if every lawn was replaced with drought-tolerant plants.
It might not be what you expect to hear about California agriculture in the throes of drought: After four years of historic water shortages, farm earnings in the state increased 16 percent, and total employment increased 5 percent. Yet those are real numbers gathered by federal agencies that track economic data.
The leaves atop giant sequoias in the Sierra Nevada are better at storing water than those closer to the ground, an adaptation that may explain how their treetops are able to survive 300 feet in the air, researchers at American River College and Humboldt State University have found.
Tribes are apprehensive, cities are more upbeat and farmers stand somewhere in between over a proposed plan to cut CAP water deliveries to keep Lake Mead from falling to dangerously low levels. … The drought-contingency plan is being discussed by Arizona, California and Nevada as a way to avert catastrophic cuts later.
A poll by the Public Policy Institute of California shows, despite a partisan divide, 62 percent of likely voters favor the law [AB 32]. … The poll also found that water supply and drought remain the top environmental concern for Californians.
California wildfires often become massive infernos that destroy lives and livelihoods, especially during the summer and fall months. Because of a drought that has persisted since 2012, the fire season seems to be expanding, with some fires even occurring during the winter months.
State Water Resources Control Board officials issued a warning last week for the North Coast, noting that high temperatures and continuing drought conditions increase the likelihood of potentially lethal algal blooms in area streams, rivers and lakes.
Thousands of firefighters were battling wildfires on Monday in central and Southern California that have burned through nearly 50,000 acres and prompted thousands of people to evacuate their homes, the authorities said.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s office recently held the first in what’s expected to be a series of private meetings with scientists, conservationists and fire professionals to discuss how to prevent massive blazes in the face of climate change and prolonged drought.
During the past year of drought, while many Californians have heeded the call to conserve and managed to achieve water-savings of nearly 25 percent statewide, one group of water users hasn’t measured up: the golf courses that spread out across thousands of acres in the desert.
In California, cyanotoxins have become more of a problem amid the drought and the same toxin that shut down Toledo’s water supply has been detected in lakes, reservoirs and streams across the state. But because standard treatment processes usually get rid of cyanotoxins, water officials say it’s unlikely a similar crisis would unfold here.
The state is currently investigating whether it is feasible to develop standards for direct potable reuse, which would allow treated wastewater to be sent direct to customers for drinking without first being stored in a reservoir or aquifer.
California and parts of the Southwestern United States have now endured a fifth consecutive year of drought. … A few states that were drought-stricken just last year are no longer in drought. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed drought levels estimated as of the week ended July 4 and as of early July last year from the U.S. Drought Monitor.
California has shifted its message on the drought. Now, instead of calling on residents to cut their water consumption collectively by 25 percent, water agencies are saying something akin to this: “Trust us, it’s all under control.”
California’s drought, now in its fifth year, has grabbed headlines – many of them focused on the state’s mandatory conservation measure enacted last year or the impacts on the agricultural sector, said Heather Cooley, the water program director of the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank. … That’s changed since the Pacific Institute teamed up with the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water and eight grassroots organizations to put together a community-based participatory research project on Drought and Equity in the San Francisco Bay Area.
California water will retake the Capitol Hill stage in coming days, with compromise nowhere in sight. … Underscoring the many complications entangling California water, the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority and the Westlands Water District on Friday sued the federal Bureau of Reclamation over measures intended to protect endangered species.
While mandatory statewide conservation is over, California water officials say conservation remains a “top priority.” “Rain or shine, drought or no drought, state mandated target or not, Californians should keep conserving,” said State Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus.
Los Angeles has chalked up yet another dreary milestone in its growing almanac of drought. … News of L.A.’s record low precipitation comes as the State Water Resources Control Board announced a 28% drop in residential water use for May, compared with the same month in 2013.
It has been a scene playing out daily in the Sierra this spring and now summer: Cal Fire firefighters cutting down trees and thinning out parts of the forest in the wake of an unprecedented crisis, the deaths of 66 million California trees, said Edwin Simpson, a forester with Cal Fire.
California’s Rim Fire in 2013 was the third largest in the state’s history, and the 2012 Rush Fire, the second largest. And last year’s Butte and Valley fires were some of the most destructive in state history. These grim statistics are part of an alarming trend in western states: The number of large fires is growing, and so is the area burned and the length of the annual fire season.
The drought in California is now in its fifth consecutive year and conditions throughout the state have increased potential for wildfires. Cal Fire says it has already responded to more than 2,400 wildfires in 2016.
The Central Valley has been hit hard by the long-running drought. La Niña has failed to deliver the relief everyone was hoping for, but researchers at Stanford have discovered what could be good news for the region and for the state.
Under the state’s newly relaxed conservation rules, California’s 400 urban water district were to submit an analysis of their supply conditions and conservation outlook by last Wednesday. The water board won’t publish the responses until next month.
There are now 66 million dead trees in California’s forests due to several years of drought and native bark beetles, creating a “catastrophic” wildfire threat—or so claims U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. While Vilsack’s assertion may resonate with many in the general public because it makes intuitive sense, it simply isn’t true.
The fire tore through small communities of houses and mobile homes that surround the lake [Lake Isabella] - actually a reservoir – and the Kern River, a popular spot for fishing and whitewater rafting.
A year after California attacked the drought with an unprecedented water rationing program that drove cities and towns to cut back 24 percent collectively, state officials have changed course and given local agencies the leeway to come up with their own water-saving goals. But the agencies are not exactly setting a high bar.
At least 80 homes have burned and 1,500 others are threatened by a wildfire racing across Kern County that grew to 8,000 acres in less than 24 hours and quickly became the state’s most destructive fire of the year.
Municipal water agencies across California are required to report to state officials by midnight Wednesday on whether they have enough water to withstand three more years of drought. … Officials with the State Water Resources Control Board are calling it a “stress test.”
The number of trees in California’s Sierra Nevada forests killed by drought, a bark beetle epidemic and warmer temperatures has dramatically increased since last year, raising fears they will fuel catastrophic wildfires and endanger people’s lives, officials said Wednesday.
The state announced plans to spend $10 million to begin connecting unincorporated East Porterville in Tulare County to the water system of neighboring Porterville. … Statewide, officials said roughly 2,000 wells have run dry during California’s most severe drought on record and stretching into its fifth year.
The Sierra snowpack, which is responsible for more than 60 percent of California’s water, won’t likely make it back to its pre-drought levels until 2019, scientists said in a study published this week, dashing the hopes of those who believed one extremely wet El Niño year could alleviate the state’s water crisis.
The California drought is carving an unprecedented path of ruin through Sierra forests, killing trees by the millions and setting the stage for a potentially devastating wildfire season that’s already burning homes and closing freeways in the southern half of the state.
A lethal combination of drought, heat and voracious bark beetles has killed 26 million trees in the Sierra Nevada over the last eight months — an alarming finding for a state already raging with wildfires fueled by denuded landscapes and desiccated tinder.
California is no stranger to drought. When conditions become dry, water storage declines and water conservation mandates make news headlines; questions from the public often surface about what appear to be easy solutions to augment the state’s water supply. But the answers can be complicated and, in the end, there is no silver bullet to ensure a resilient water supply, especially during drought.
We explore “frequently asked questions” often posed by the public and provide answers below. Simply click on the question for the answer to appear.
Improving weather conditions overnight have diverted resources from a brush fire burning in Santa Barbara County to a pair of blazes burning above communities in the San Gabriel Valley foothills and a third in San Diego County, where hundreds of homes remain under threat.
Some forest fires should be considered natural disasters and their damage paid for like hurricanes and tornadoes, according to the chief of the U.S. Forest Service, who laments that 56 percent of his budget is going to suppressing fires. … A bill pending in the House would allow for supplemental appropriations, like those made for natural disasters like hurricanes, as needed.
It could take California four years to recover from the most severe drought on record, even if the next several winters bring above-normal snowfall to the Sierra Nevada, researchers said Tuesday releasing a study.
Word of the vanishing Sierra snowpack, which usually helps replenish reservoir levels later in the summer, arrives amid uncertainty over how California’s dams will be managed in coming months to protect endangered fish. It also comes at a critical juncture for urban water officials across the state.
California’s drought has revealed that when it comes to water, not every community is equal. … Now, a bill by a Bay Area state lawmaker aims to slow the spread of little “mom and pop” water providers by making it very difficult to create new ones.
When the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced last month that the country’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, had fallen to its lowest-ever level at 1,074ft (327m), the question many asked was: How will it affect one of California’s primary drinking sources? … Falling water levels are the result of a drought in the Colorado River Basin that has dragged on for 16 years and counting.
California’s drought and a bark beetle epidemic have caused the largest die-off of Sierra Nevada forests in modern history, raising fears that trees could come crashing down on people or fuel deadly wildfires that could wipe out mountain communities.
President Barack Obama mixed business with pleasure here Saturday, touting the importance of national parks and then seeing one up close for himself as he took in the sights at what is arguably the crown jewel of the national park system.
Summer starts Monday, and the state faces another fire season. Many worry it could be a repeat of last year, when massive wildfires tore through populated areas and ravaged landscapes parched by years of drought.
The El Niño-fueled storms that coated the Sierra with nearly normal snow this winter brought blasts of hope to drought-weary California. But after the flurries stopped and the seasons changed, the melt-off from the high country has been swift and disappointingly scant, according to new water supply estimates from the state.
For anyone who doubts that we’re still in a drought, San Joaquin County’s groundwater “savings account” was even more depleted this spring than last, despite improved rainfall over the course of the winter.
Wednesday will be a day of reckoning for California water wholesalers like Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District (MWD). They have to prove to the state that they have enough water to get through three more years of drought.
The DWR [California Department of Water Resources] hired [Dave] Meko and his crew to perform the massive tree-ring study beginning last year. … The Southern California watershed data will be analyzed and compared with tree-ring data from Northern California and the Colorado River area, three key sources of drinking water for a state of 36 million people.
What does the future hold for California’s weather and climate? Is drought the new normal? And what about La Niña? We talked to Daniel Swain—founder of the popular California Weather Blog and a Stanford University climate scientist—about our volatile climate.
Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael L. Connor announced more than $30 million in funding through the Bureau of Reclamation’s Title XVI program for seven projects that will provide clean water to California communities and promote water and energy efficiency.
This year was supposed to be different. With Northern California’s reservoirs finally brimming and cities liberated from stringent conservation rules, farmers were expecting more water for their crops. The worst of the drought seemed over. Or maybe not.
Though El Niño’s impacts in the state, particularly Southern California, fell short of expectations, worldwide effects from the event were significant, according to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. . . . in its declaration, NOAA estimated a 75 percent chance for a La Niña phase, characterized by cooler-than-average sea temperatures, to roll around this fall, though it’s unlikely to cause extreme changes in the Bay Area’s rainfall, forecasters said.
In its monthly update Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the El Nino has ended, 15 months after its birth in March 2015. El Nino is a natural warming of parts of the central Pacific that changes weather worldwide.
At the first hearing on Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s controversial drought legislation, it emerges that the Obama administration supports the bill. But a deeper look shows that many concerns remain, leaving consensus still in doubt.
Following the wettest winter in five years, water conservation rules for Santa Clara County’s 1.9 million residents are likely to be relaxed in the next few weeks. The staff of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, the wholesale water provider for the county, is recommending a 20 percent cut in water usage compared with 2013 levels through Jan. 31, down from the current 30 percent.
State officials lauded Californians’ continued water savings Monday while issuing a stern warning: State-mandated restrictions will be imposed again on suppliers that fail to take extended conservation needs seriously.
Last month, state water officials eased conservation mandates in response to slightly above-average winter rain and snow in much of California, leading many to speculate that the state’s long-running drought has tapered off. If only.
The state Water Resources Control Board has launched an investigation into Nestle’s water rights in the San Bernardino National Forest, adding a new layer of scrutiny to the growing public outcry into the water bottler’s operations during a drought.
Parts of the Western U.S. are getting an early taste of scorching summer heat, forcing officials in California, Oregon and desert Southwest states to heed the warnings of dangerous, triple-digit temperatures in this first week of June.
Earlier this week, I [Brad Plumer] wrote about how Lake Mead, America’s largest man-made reservoir, has shrunk to its lowest level ever. … Now NASA’s Earth Observatory has posted two satellite images that show the dramatic decline of Lake Mead between 2000 and 2015.
Bernie Sanders, traipsing across far-flung regions of California as he seeks a comeback victory here next week, swatted at likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for minimizing the state’s water shortage and the effects of climate change.
Earlier this month, California lifted its sweeping restrictions on how its towns and cities use their water, signaling that even though much of the state continues to face extraordinary drought, a moderately wet winter has blunted officials’ sense of urgency over water shortages. Seemingly overlooked, however, is the state’s enormous reliance on the Colorado River for its urban water supplies — and the fact that the Colorado is approaching its worst point of crisis in a generation.
The 20th century dams and canals that gave birth to modern California — to San Francisco, to Los Angeles, to the San Joaquin Valley farms that feed the nation — are near the end of their engineered lives. … So far, the three major presidential candidates have hardly noticed these problems as they barnstorm the state heading into the June 7 primary.
When California officials announced an end to restrictions on urban water use last week, they cited the recent wet winter as one reason. El Niño, the climate pattern that brought a succession of storms to Northern California, had given the state a reprieve from its water woes, they said.
State water regulators are proposing to dismiss a record $1.5-million fine they intended to levy against a Northern California irrigation district accused of ignoring drought-related cuts in water diversions.
Photos of brimming lakes and reservoirs, flowing rivers and raging waterfalls have been splashed across news headlines and in social media. It’s a welcome change from last year when California was entering its fifth year of drought. Yet, the reservoirs are filling because the snow is melting early, not necessarily because the state has more water that fell as snow or rain this winter.
Nevada’s wildland firefighters are readying themselves for a treacherous fire season in months ahead. That’s because a multi-year drought interrupted by El Nino moisture created conditions that cranked up the risk of wildfire in both the Sierra Nevada and Great Basin.
Before throngs of TV news cameras in April last year, Gov. Jerry Brown stood on a patch of bare Sierra dirt that should have been covered in snow and told Californians they had to be unified in conserving water. … Flash forward to this week.
The surface level at Lake Mead has dropped as planned to historic low levels, and federal water managers said Thursday the vast Colorado River reservoir is expected to continue to shrink amid ongoing drought.
Long considered an ally of Delta advocates, U.S. Rep. John Garamendi introduced legislation this week that appears likely to test that reputation. … The Feinstein-Garamendi bills are pitched as a more moderate alternative to a bill by U.S. Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, that already has passed the House.
Stubborn drought conditions and an epidemic of dead and dying trees mean California is facing a potentially catastrophic fire season, federal officials said Tuesday as they promised to send extra money and personnel to the state.
Strict rules adopted at the height of California’s drought leading many people to let their lawns turn brown may soon end as state regulators Wednesday consider letting local communities decide how to keep their own water use in check.
Five years into California’s latest drought, a major water bill compromise can seem as far away as ever. The perennial conflict, often summed up as fish vs. farms, subtly surfaced again Tuesday at a key Senate hearing.
The sounds of watercraft and families enjoying Lake Shasta on Sunday carried across the water against a vibrant backdrop of the tree line. The scene is a far cry from last year’s low water levels on the lake, which became a visual indicator of the state-wide drought and the impact to the local environment.
The budget also contains significant money to address the historic drought: an increase of $11 million to fund the removal of some of the estimated 29 million trees, many in the Sierra Nevada, that have died over the past two years from drought and bark beetles.
A mix of rising global temperatures, mysteriously warmed waters off Baja California and unusually far-reaching storms in the western Pacific Ocean conspired to block this year’s El Niño storms from hitting Southern California, the National Weather Service said this week.
Those at the helm of California’s drought response and water policy have decided to make a tactical shift. … A new draft plan from Water Board staff calls for allowing water suppliers to develop their own plans based on each area’s unique conditions.
Citing the state’s improved hydrology and impressive regional conservation, officials at Southern California’s massive water wholesaler voted Tuesday to rescind the cuts they imposed on regional water deliveries last year.
California water regulators announced new drought rules on Monday that will loosen mandatory conservation targets while making permanent some of the measures that have helped reduce water use during the past year.
Some of the temporary water-saving measures imposed on homeowners and water agencies — including how you wash your car at home and how you water your lawn — are now permanent under an executive order issued Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown.
With California entering its fifth year of a statewide drought, Gov. Jerry Brown moved on Monday to impose permanent water conservation measures and called on water suppliers to prepare for a future made drier by climate change.
On the same day that Gov. Jerry Brown sought to make water conservation a way of life for Californians by permanently banning some wasteful practices, regulators in Sacramento prepared to significantly ease the current drought restrictions for urban residents and businesses.
California’s historic drought rules are going to be a whole lot looser this summer. In a major shift, the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown announced Monday plans to drop all statewide mandatory water conservation targets it had imposed on urban areas last June.
Gov. Jerry Brown and top water regulators on Monday laid out a revised game plan for dealing with California’s persistent drought, making some conservation rules permanent while also moving to give communities more of a say in deciding how much water they must save.
California’s “frozen reservoir” is melting fast. Unusually high temperatures this spring have acted like a blow-drier on accumulated winter snows, despite a healthy boost during the stormy month of March.
The U.S. Drought Monitor released May 5 shows some minor improvement in California drought conditions. But looking ahead to the dry season shows drought persisting for a fifth consecutive year in the Golden State.
Thanks to El Niño rains and a fifth year of drought, experts say, California’s landscape has provided enough water to spring up new vegetation to ignite while swaths of forest continued to dry out, priming them to burn and creating a dangerous mix that state and federal firefighters will have to contend with this year.
No fewer than nine government agencies and nonprofit organizations have had a hand in helping the [East Porterville] community, which drew international media attention for its exceptional suffering in the fourth year of California’s drought.
What if 2017 is a dry year? “There are no predictions yet, but we have to be prepared,” said Jeanine Jones, resources manager for the state Department of Water Resources. Jones and other state and federal water officials outlined the challenges faced in meeting water demands and the limiting factors to delivery, during a Water Education Foundation seminar held in Fresno.
The U.S. Forest Service’s proposal to grant Nestle a new permit to continue piping water out of a national forest for bottling has drawn a flood of written comments from the public, including a petition with more than 280,000 names demanding the agency “turn off the spigot.”
Residents of drought-stricken California doubled their water conservation efforts in March compared with the month before by turning off their sprinklers when the rain fell and changing habits, officials said Tuesday.
Nestle extracted 36 million gallons of water from a national forest in California last year to sell as bottled water, even as Californians were ordered to cut their water use because of a historic drought in the state.
Despite California’s drought, almond growers expanded their orchards by an estimated 60,000 acres in 2015, marking the 12th consecutive year of growth for the crop, which now covers more than 1.1 million acres, or more than any other fruit, nut or vegetable crop in the state.
The trifecta of complaints in 2016 pounded last year’s biggest concern — the California drought — like a heavy El Niño rainstorm. Only 1 percent of Bay Area residents named the lack of water as the biggest problem this year, compared with 24 percent last year.
For nearly two decades, Los Vaqueros Reservoir — a sprawling lake in eastern Contra Costa County nearly 3 miles long and 170 feet deep — has been a popular spot for boating, fishing, hiking and a key source of water for local residents.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, campaigning for U.S. Senate, said Tuesday that she would consider amending the federal law governing endangered species to help improve the water supply across the parched state of California.
With El Niño-fueled storms drowning out reminders that most of California remains in a state of severe drought, a growing number of communities and water associations are demanding an end to emergency water restrictions that were first imposed more than a year ago.
Once bathed in deep green, the forests in the foothills and Sierra east of the San Joaquin Valley are increasingly turning reddish-brown as drought- and beetle-weary trees die by the month. … Local and state officials want the ponderosa pine’s territory, generally above 3,000 feet in elevation, declared a federal disaster area.
Earth Day, celebrated today across the globe, reminds us of the fragile state of our planet. From land contaminated with toxic chemicals to bad air spewed into the atmosphere, the most of us have been affected by pollution in some way. To bring all of this closer to home, we’re listing the 10 most critical environmental problems in Southern California.
Lake Tahoe’s famed water clarity took a hit last year in part due to California’s fourth consecutive year of drought. … With spring snowmelt continuing, the lake is currently 2 inches above its rim and has begun spilling over into the Truckee River for the first time since October 2014.