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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Clad in a blue head scarf, Gov. Jerry Brown went to the Sikh
Temple of Sacramento on Sunday to honor the “peach king of
California,” … Bains said his crops still have plenty of
water from deep wells and the Oroville Dam and Feather and
Sacramento rivers, but called the drought “a big threat. It’s
not like we’re going to have water forever without rain.”
At the State Building and Construction Trades Council, we agree
with the San Diego County Water Authority – the Carlsbad
desalination plant can’t come online fast enough. There is no
denying that California is in desperate need of a reliable,
drought-proof water supply.
When Rosemary Plano decided to rip out her lawn in 2012 and put
in a low-maintenance desertscape of succulents, heather, and
gravel, passersby said things like “it’s jarring” or “you’ll
miss your roses.” … Californians also demonstrated a
commitment to addressing the state’s water issues by passing
Proposition 1 on Election Day.
The historic statewide drought has struck especially hard along
the southern San Mateo County coast. While other parts of the
Bay Area are served by big water agencies with steady if
shrinking supplies, most of the homes and small farms here,
less than an hour’s drive from Silicon Valley, rely on creeks
and wells, many of which have stopped flowing.
There are 810 dried wells at Tulare County homes, and water
tanks may be their best chance to get running water for the
winter. At the same time, county officials say the cost of all
this triage could be $12 million annually — a cost the state
would pick up.
A miraculous thing happens each fall in the Sacramento Valley,
and it’s not the end of 100-degree weather: Salmon return to
the area’s rivers and creeks. One hundred miles from the
Pacific Ocean, the valley hosts one of the largest annual
salmon spawning runs in America.
A rather extraordinary sequence of atmospheric events has
unfolded over the Pacific Ocean and across adjacent North
America over the past week or so. The current pattern is
strongly reminiscent of the extremely high amplitude wave
pattern that dominated most of winter 2013-2014 and the latter
half of 2012-2013.
In the hotel industry, being green sometimes means ripping out
the greenery. The Intercontinental Los Angeles Century City
Hotel is removing draping ivy plants from the balconies of all
361 rooms, replacing them with drought-tolerant succulents.
California Governor Jerry Brown welcomed representatives from
western states to Sacramento today for the Western Governors’
Drought Forum. And Brown took some time to share his thoughts
on moving water around California.
This past month was the third-warmest October in California
since officials began keeping records more than a century ago,
continuing the state’s pattern in what is likely to be its
hottest year ever, according to government climatologists.
As California heads into its annual rainy season, water
managers, farmers and millions of residents with parched yards
are hoping huge storms will finally break the state’s historic
three-year drought. Don’t count on it.
Lake Mead’s infamous bathtub ring has been there so long it no
longer shocks the sensibilities. … But, all things
considered, Las Vegas Valley Water District General Manager
John Entsminger is feeling pretty good these days.
It’s hard to sympathize with politicians most of the time, and
especially when they appear to ignore the standards they set
for their constituents. But maybe a well-rehearsed chorus of
“hypocrisy!” isn’t the only way to react to the reports about
water use at the homes of Los Angeles officials.
The typical season for the mandarin harvest is November through
January. But Bob Bonk of Snow’s Citrus Court said the last two
years haven’t been typical at the family-owned and operated
citrus grove in Newcastle.
Americans recently passed a milestone when federal officials
reported that water use across the nation had reached its
lowest level in more than 45 years: good news for the
environment, great news in times of drought and a major victory
Today, the drought will bring together the leaders of several
states suffering from water scarcity. Gov. Jerry Brown and
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval will open a forum on how drought is
affecting agriculture with remarks in the governor’s office
Defying the state’s devastating water shortage, California
farmers produced a record tomato crop. … In a year when most
commodities saw declines in production, the tomato crop was 16
percent larger than last year.
Worsening water stress was identified by the World Economic
Forum as one of the top global trends to watch next year. Water
stress has prompted Georgia to sue the U.S. government, while
water stress in California is being exacerbated by illegal
According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s
Marijuana Enforcement Team (MET), in the last two years,
illegal marijuana grows have stolen 1.2 billion gallons of
water. … Just this year, wardens from Fish and
Wildlife’s MET have uncovered 136 dams, reservoirs and
elaborate piping systems set up by pot growers to steal
Cástulo Estrada, the 26-year-old political newcomer who won a
seat on the Coachella Valley Water District board in last
week’s election, is thought to be the first Latino ever elected
to the position. … Water districts in the Coachella
Valley will receive $5.2 million from the state for
A serious drought in the American West has called national
attention to our country’s water resources. U.S. businesses
report substantial concerns over water supply, while the
current drought in California has cost the state billions of
dollars in economic losses.
The good news for ensuring a reliable water supply in
California is the passage of Proposition 1 last week.
… Too few Californians voted last Tuesday, passing on
one opportunity to get involved with water policy, among other
The just-released report from the State Water Resources Board
shows denser, multi-family neighborhoods use much less water
than leafy suburbs with single-family homes surrounded by
manicured lawns and non-native landscaping.
Imagine harvesting your own water — no water utility, no
monthly water bill. Instead, you have equipped your home with a
rain catchment system or atmospheric water generator, and
connected it to your tap. Monterey will soon be a site for just
such an experiment.
Tim O’Halloran, director of the Yolo County Flood Control and
Water Conservation District (YCFCWCD), gave a talk on how the
drought is affecting groundwater and the potential implications
of the groundwater management bill package signed by Governor
Jerry Brown earlier this year.
Book it: This year will go down as the hottest in California’s
history. With just two months left in the year, there’s a
better than 99 percent chance that 2014 will be the warmest
year on record for California, according to National Weather
They’re famous for asparagus and potatoes on this central Delta
island, where the Zuckerman family has farmed for four
generations. But here and there, mixed in with the spuds and
other crops, are vast fields of emerald-green grass that
stretch into the distance until they meet the sky.
People are using twice as much water in the city of Sonoma as
they are along the Russian River, with residents of five other
cities and one water district in Sonoma County falling between
the two extremes, according to a state report that calculates
per capita water use for the first time.
Every fall and winter at sunset, the sky above Staten Island
fills with majestic sandhill cranes alighting in the fields.
The sight is more spectacular than usual this year, as the
number of cranes wintering on the island in the Sacramento-San
Joaquin Delta has doubled over the same time in 2013.
Water runs in Curtis Hennings’ family, as his grandfather and
his father owned well-drilling businesses. … Starting in
January, new regulations will require local water boards to
create (rules) that will limit how much water is being pumped.
Already among the best at conserving water in the state for
several years, the Monterey Peninsula still managed to cut its
water use even further this summer and ranks among the state’s
most efficient water users.
Santa Cruz’s tough water restrictions are paying off. With the
lowest water use per capita, the city is doing the best job at
conserving water in the state, according to the State Water
Resources Control Board report released this week.
Residents of the elite community of Rancho Santa Fe have the
highest home water use in California, according to a newly
released state report. For the analysis, made public this week
by the State Water Resources Control Board, officials
calculated daily residential water use per person for nearly
400 water districts between June and September.
For the first time since the drought began, state officials
this week revealed how much water communities across California
are using on a per-person, per-day basis — and as always there
are heroes and villains.
The first-ever reporting of per-person water use across
California showed that residents in the hottest, driest parts
of the Inland region averaged 252 gallons per day – almost
three times higher than northern coastal areas, according to
data presented Tuesday to the State Water Board.
The Bureau of Reclamation has released for public review an
Environmental Assessment on a proposal to place temporary pumps
along a joint-use portion of the California Aqueduct. The pumps
would reverse flow so the Santa Clara Valley Water District can
recover previously banked Central Valley Project water. …
Normal operations of the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s
previously approved banking and exchange program is not
possible due to severe drought conditions.
Residents in coastal communities use far less water than their
inland counterparts, but still find ways to cut back even more,
residential per-capita water use figures released for the first
time Tuesday show.
Three consecutive years of drought have depleted California’s
water storage, brought hardship to the agricultural sector, and
led to stringent emergency conservation measures in cities
throughout the state. In October, the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration released its outlook for next
winter, and the preliminary modeling suggests more of the same.
So what, if anything, should the state do differently next
The trees are a symbol of the drought’s effect on the
relatively isolated Central Coast, which — despite its
proximity to the world’s largest body of water — is
particularly vulnerable to shortages because it relies on an
unstable networks of creeks, lakes and State Water Project
The Sacramento Valley is a resting stop for millions of birds
in the Pacific Flyway. Wet weather in Canada earlier this year
is predicted to bring a record number of birds. And they’ll
face a landscape with little water.
That is the preliminary conclusion arrived at by the San
Gabriel Valley Water Association on Friday after the fourth
week of water watching revealed the region used 182 million
gallons more water this week than the same week last year.
The University of California’s Agriculture and Natural
Resources (UCANR) has developed a series of webinars titled
Insights: Water and Drought which feature timely, relevant
expertise on water and drought from experts around the
University of California system.
When Californians close the musty drapes of the voting booth on
Tuesday, they will face a $US 7.5 billion question: Should the
perpetually water-worried state, in the midst of a record
drought, use its taxing authority to pay for another set of
state-funded water projects? If the voters say yes – as the
polls suggest is likely – Proposition 1 will be the seventh and
most expensive water-related bond passed in California since
A California storm dropped about half an inch of rain on Los
Angeles, causing a troublesome mudslide in the region but
bringing a good start to a much needed wet season amid the
state’s drought, forecasters said Saturday.
In an effort to convince Angelenos to rip out their
water-hogging lawns, the Department of Water and Power has
offered one of the most generous grass-removal incentives in
the state — $3 per square foot of lawn replaced by a low-water
landscape. The new yard can include drought-tolerant plants,
gravel or artificial turf.
One modest, seasonal storm wasn’t going to reverse California’s
historic drought. Yet across the Central Valley and Sierra
Nevada mountains, where livelihoods and entire towns are
threatened, there was joy Saturday as rain fell and snow piled
In Southern California, gardens are going grey. Grey water
systems that take spent water from showers, bathroom faucets
and washers and use it to quench the landscape are seen by some
as the next step in sustainable gardening across bone-dry
Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond, gathered the
reluctant hold-your-nose support of The Press Democrat
editorial board. But you should vote no on Proposition 1.
Here’s why: Proposition 1 is not a solution to our water
shortages or drought. But it does burden us with $14.4
billion of real debt obligations including interest …
With a drought in the atmosphere and a water bond on the
ballot, interest in the state of our water is soaring. Today
officials will offer a primer on the vital resource, assessing
the state of things with an update to the California Water
A few years ago I remember getting overly excited about an
upcoming storm and its potential for producing a powder day. A
friend, a little more grizzled in his Sierra Nevada lifestyle,
promptly shut me down with a “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Complete recovery from the drought gripping California and
other western states is not likely this winter, according to a
recent forecast. … Tahoe’s drought is predicted to persist,
according to a NOAA drought outlook map for Oct. 16, 2014,
through Jan. 31, 2015, with the potential for slow drought
recovery later in winter and early spring for the Sierra.
“In wet years, dry years and every type of water year in
between, the daily intrusion and retreat of salinity in the
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is a constant pattern.” The
newest issue of Western Water magazine examines salinity in the
San Francisco-San Joaquin Delta, a vital estuary and critical
juncture of the state’s water delivery system. Read more
excerpts from this issue.
California’s historic drought has put the state’s water
problems in the forefront this year and those problems aren’t
likely to be solved when the clouds open up again. Nowhere is
that more apparent than in the water system’s central hub — the
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
California’s stubborn drought helped push a $7.5-billion water
bond through the Legislature and onto the November ballot. But
even if voters approve Proposition 1, it won’t provide relief
any time soon.