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 U.S. Drought Monitor says extreme and exceptional drought was reduced slightly in California last week and, for the first time since the week of July 2013, there is no exceptional drought in Nevada.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Tuesday called for “a major course correction” in the way the nation conserves its public lands, waters and wildlife, saying climate change and other trends threaten natural areas “in existential ways.”
Among firs and cedars high in the Sierra Nevada, scientists are using an array of instruments to monitor the health of the forest, measure the snowpack and track the water that melts and seeps into the soil. … Already, as the winters have grown warmer, the snow has been melting earlier after storms pass.
Politicians in Washington could have passed laws four years ago that would be yielding benefits today. These would be things like assistance with groundwater recharge, water conservation on farms, stormwater capture and wastewater recycling. I [Matt Weiser] call these non-nuclear options, because they don’t peg the Geiger counter in many lobbying offices in the land.
Four years of bruising drought in the West has strained inland rivers where salmon spawn, putting the fish in sharp decline. … The salmon industry in California and Oregon alone is valued at $2 billion annually.
For the first time in five years, Northern California’s rivers are roaring and its reservoirs are filled almost to the brim. But you’d hardly know it, based on how quiet it’s been at the two giant pumping stations at the south end of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Despite the wettest winter in five years, an overwhelming majority of Californians believe that the state faces an extremely serious water shortage and plan to continue conserving water, according to a poll released Thursday.
Responding to profound threats to California’s quintessential catch, federal fishery regulators laid out new restrictions Thursday for the state’s commercial salmon fishing season, scheduled to begin next month, as well as to the sport season, which started April 2.
In what may be an ominous sign for the end of the drought, the El Niño that brought Northern California its wettest winter in five years is continuing to weaken and appears to be giving way to its atmospheric sibling — La Niña.
Dramatic photographs showing California’s diminishing, drought-ravaged reservoirs circulated all over news sites and social media last year. Images of exposed lake beds with parched, cracked earth became symbols of the Golden State’s water crisis. The story changed this winter.
The politics of California water is becoming three-dimensional chess in Congress as lawmakers balance competing anti-drought ideas with a proposed San Joaquin Valley irrigation drainage settlement that’s going to get bigger.
The first Alaska wildfire of 2016 broke out in late February, followed by a second there just eight days later. … And on the border of Arizona and California this month, helicopters dumped water on flames so intense that they jumped the Colorado River, forcing the evacuation of two recreational vehicle parks.
Here at the Gatekeepers Museum, onlookers see something that until now has been a rare occurrences. Lake Tahoe at its natural rim, slightly above as a matter of fact, to allow water to overflow into tributaries — like the Truckee River.
A pattern change will continue to bring rain and some mountain snow to parts of the drought-stricken West this week. … This pattern change is good news for California, where drought remains a concern and any precipitation is beneficial.
People have long predicted that California could eventually collapse into the ocean following a mega earthquake. Now, an eerily similar true-life scenario is playing out — but it’s thanks to the weather.
Scattered statewide showers forced baseball players to sit through rain, horses to run through mud and caused other nuisances. But the rainfall once again fell short of wet expectations for the dry California.
In record numbers, homeowners throughout the state rushed out to buy flood insurance in anticipation of the widely hyped – and feared – monster El Niño. …. And some are asking: Did all these insurance buyers make a monster mistake?
This is the time of year when water utilities set their rates, which almost inevitably go up. But this year, the rate hikes are likely to be higher than usual, as water utilities cope with the unexpected impact of mandatory conservation on their budgets.
In another sign that the drought isn’t over in this neck of California, state officials are considering temporarily loosening water quality standards on the Stanislaus and San Joaquin rivers for the third year in a row.
Some residents of drought-stricken California who let their lawns turn brown and took shorter showers could soon get some relief, while others may continue to feel the pain. In the coming months, state officials will undertake a monumental task of rewriting conservation orders for a fifth year of drought.
On April 20, the [State Water Resources Control] board will meet with hundreds of cities, water utilities and private water companies in an effort to reduce targets and adjust a new conservation plan that runs through October. On May 5, the board will consider reducing targets due to water availability and hydrology.
Poised to ease California’s mandatory drought rules after rebounding rain and snow levels this winter, state water officials on Monday made it clear that — even where reservoirs are 100 percent full — no community is likely to get an entirely free pass from conservation targets this summer.
Californians cut water use 12 percent in February, concluding a nine-month mandatory conservation initiative that fell just short of the governor’s 25 percent saving goal, according to state data released Monday.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in an eagerly anticipated announcement, outlined the initial 2016 water allocations from the Central Valley Project, the federal government’s massive network of reservoirs, pumps and canals.
A nearly average spring snowpack in the Sierra Nevada will likely prolong tough water conservation measures in drought-stricken California — although the restrictions could be loosened in some areas after an El Niño storm system drenched the northern half of the state this winter, officials said.
“California’s front yard” is getting a water-wise makeover. Work crews Wednesday started sheet mulching swaths of lawn outside the state Capitol as the iconic Capitol Park begins transforming its landscape for a more drought-tolerant future.
“And don’t forget the trees,” would be the refrain from State Water Resources Control Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus at the end of every meeting. Marcus wants Californians to conserve water but not at the expense of yard trees and park specimens that provide shade and reduce energy use.
The rain storms and blizzards that were supposed to come with El Niño were conspicuously non-biblical in California this winter, leaving the state in an ecological limbo that has regulators thinking about easing water-use restrictions in some places but not in others.
With the wettest winter in five years having taken the hard edges off the historic drought and a key Sierra snowpack reading Wednesday expected to show big gains, Californians can look forward to substantial relief from mandatory statewide water restrictions.
One year ago Friday, Frank Gehrke hiked out to Phillips Station and stuck a tube onto a tuft of brownish-green grass. There was no snow, but Gehrke had quite an audience. … On Wednesday, when Gehrke hikes out to the field again, he’ll have something to measure.
Congress is about to try again to help ease California’s drought. … Discerning the helpful proposals from the hyperbole can be difficult. So as a guide to the process, Water Deeply offers the following four themes to watch as the bills are debated.
Pointing to improved conditions at Folsom Lake, a water district serving one of the region’s wealthiest areas announced Friday that it would not follow conservation targets mandated by the state this year and would instead ask its customers to voluntarily cut water use by 10 percent.
Adding to the debate over Northern California’s winter stormwater, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and congressional Republicans asked President Obama on Thursday to increase the volume of water pumped through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the drought-stricken San Joaquin Valley.
The U.S. Drought Monitor released March 24 says from a water supply perspective, there is nearly normal snowpack to melt off and northern Sierra reservoirs are filling. But long-term to extreme drought is still “entrenched” across much of central and southern California.
After years of drought, Northern California has so much water that the state’s two largest reservoirs are releasing water to maintain flood-control safety. … Shasta and Oroville are the twin anchors of California’s giant water-delivery networks.
With Lake Oroville rising more than 82 feet this month, the water level is now cutting into the buffer needed for flood control. … Other north state reservoirs have increased their outflows as they encroach on flood control limits.
The White House on Tuesday unveiled several billion dollars’ worth of corporate commitments to water research and development during a high-level summit. Pegged to World Water Day, the summit was intended to draw attention to specific state and corporate pledges as well as new Obama administration initiatives prompted in part by Western states’ drought and the Flint, Michigan, drinking water scandal.
Late last spring, amid the depths of California’s punishing drought, state officials made a historic determination that rivers and creeks were too low for many farms and cities to draw from. Not everyone agreed, however.
The so-called March Miracle has unleashed the largest allocation of water from Northern California in four years, more than doubling the flow of imported water from the State Water Project into Central and Southern California.
President Barack Obama on Monday directed the federal government to come up with a less reactionary and more long-term strategy for dealing with drought. … The White House is hosting a “water summit” on Tuesday, which is World Water Day, to raise awareness of the importance of safe, sufficient and reliable water resources.
The film, titled “Pumped Dry: The Global Crisis of Vanishing Groundwater,” was co-produced by Steve Elfers of USA TODAY and Ian James of The Desert Sun, and was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
As Californians hope for rain and snow to end the state’s extreme drought, a decades-old rule prohibits reservoirs from filling up in the winter, so some water ends up being released. The rule may sound odd given how chronically dry California is, but it’s actually to prevent a bigger disaster: flooding.
Congress is about to try again to help ease California’s drought. A handful of bills — some new, some held over from last year — will come up for debate in the weeks ahead. The subject is as partisan as the presidential race, and a lot more complicated.
The Forest Service is conducting an environmental review of Nestle’s controversial bottled water operation in the San Bernardino Mountains, and could require the company to monitor the impacts of its withdrawals, officials said Friday, March 18.
Deliveries from the State Water Project are now forecast to be 45 percent of what was requested, still less than what’s supplied during most wet years but more than what’s been allocated since the first year of the drought.
Seeking to impart lessons from Australia’s 15-year “millennium drought,” the nonprofit California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy is paying for a handful of lawmakers to fly across the world during the Legislature’s spring recess next week.
California’s 2nd District Congressman Jared Huffman stated the proposed harvest reductions will have a significant economic impact on California’s $1.4 billion salmon industry which he said could be exacerbated should Congress fail to pass legislation to address the ongoing drought conditions.
Seasonal storms that have raised the region’s reservoir water levels to their highest points in the last two years could bolster this year’s run of Chinook salmon, water and wildlife officials said Wednesday.
Ever since a series of winter storms began dumping rain and snow in Northern California last year, officials have been looking for tangible signs that all those storms were making a dent in the state’s four-year drought.
This week on Sea Change Radio, host Alex Wise speaks with energy reporter from The Desert Sun, Sammy Roth. He recently researched a piece about efforts to make desalination more commonplace in California.
The northern Sierra has seen nearly double the average precipitation since the beginning of March. It may seem hard to believe after such a dry February, but some of California’s largest reservoirs have approached flood operations.
Federal fishery regulators unveiled plans this week to limit this year’s chinook salmon catch in an effort to protect the state’s signature seafood amid the growing threats of a warming ocean and drought-parched rivers and creeks.
With California’s two largest reservoirs hitting historically average levels following a weekend of heavy storms, the state’s chief water regulator is cautiously optimistic that the drought may finally be relaxing its grip.
Stormwater is starting to get some serious attention in California, as the state’s drought enters a fifth year. … In Walnut Creek, behind a ranch-style home, landscape designer Ryan Kelsey is helping people do that—at least in the short term, and on their own properties.
For the past five years, as the drought drained California’s water sources and depleted its reservoirs, Southern California water managers have relied increasingly on the region’s largest out-of-state water source: the Colorado River.
Saying too much water is flowing out to sea, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Friday called on operators of the federal and state water projects to pump more water south through the Delta to drought-stricken farms and cities in Central and Southern California.
An endangered fish in the middle of California’s struggle over water allocations is becoming scarcer. … An indicator species of the environmental health of the Delta, the smelt also figures into the criteria for regulators determining how much water can be pumped from the Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta.
Clouds over Los Angeles County were seeded with silver iodide to increase the amount of rainfall during Monday’s storm, marking the first cloud seeding done by the Department of Public Works since 2002.
This weekend’s soaking rains delivered just what drought-weary Northern California needed: billions of gallons of water pouring into the state’s major reservoirs — and more predicted for later this week.
Northern California was slammed by powerful storms over the weekend that dumped rain across coastal regions and plenty of snow in the Sierra, while Southern California was expected to see another round of showers and thunderstorms Monday after a rainy weekend.
Due to the drought and poor ocean conditions, the number of fall-run salmon in the Pacific Ocean has plummeted this year, increasing the likelihood that federal and state officials will restrict commercial and recreational salmon fishing.
The latest snow survey in the Sierra Nevada showed that an above-average snowpack in January gave way to a dry February, which reduced the statewide snowpack to 83 percent of normal. It was slightly better in the norther Sierra/Trinity area, the drainages that feed lakes Oroville and Shasta, but still below average at 89 percent.
[Jym] Gritzfeld was among about 150 people – mostly recreational and commercial anglers – who filed into a conference room in Santa Rosa on Wednesday to hear presentations from state and federal fisheries managers about the dire state of salmon off the coast of California.
Enhanced water-use restrictions imposed last year on more than 10,000 Sonoma County landowners whose properties lie along four critical salmon-bearing streams will be lifted this spring in recognition of improved winter rainfall.
An unwelcome three-week winter dry spell left the California snowpack at just 83 percent of average, a setback for the state as it tries to break out of record drought, state snow surveyors found Tuesday.
In another sign that a once-promising El Niño weather pattern is proving to be no drought-buster, California officials say an unseasonably warm and dry February shrunk the Sierra snowpack to below average depths.
“Crazy-making” is how Felicia Marcus, chair of the state water board and the political face of the ongoing drought, characterized a February in which nature suddenly turned off its taps. “Nervous-making.”
Eight months after California’s governor ordered cities to cut water consumption by a quarter, residents and businesses have exceeded expectations. … Now, the state’s furious conservation drive is not only threatening trees but also resulting in sluggish sewer lines and possible increases in water and tax bills.
After a dismally dry February, drought-weary Californians are hoping a series of storms predicted to roll through in early March blanket the Sierra Nevada with a much-needed additional layer of snow, building up the state’s vital snowpack that all but disappeared last year.
Northern California’s commercial anglers are bracing for restrictions on the upcoming salmon-fishing season after federal regulators projected there are half as many Central Valley Chinook salmon in the ocean compared to this time last year.
After a seven-month legal battle, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California on Friday released the names and addresses of thousands of Los Angeles residents who received cash rebates for replacing their lawns.
On a hot summer afternoon, California farmer Chris Hurd barrels down a country road through the Central Valley city of Firebaugh, his dog Frank riding in the truck bed. … Agricultural land stretches out in every direction.
Even in the midst of a strong El Niño, California’s sunny weather this February is not surprising, experts say: The longest dry spell this month — 14 days — is actually less than the average for a strong El Niño winter.
Even with unseasonably warm temperatures and little to no rain in the forecast for at least the next seven days, the operators of Folsom Dam are going to more than double the flows in the lower American River to protect against flooding.
After a year in which Californians cut water use by 25 percent, storm water has become the next front in what amounts to a fundamental restructuring of Southern California’s relationship with its intricate water network.
El Niño, as all things must, will be coming to an end over the next couple months, possibly to be replaced by its sister phenomenon, La Niña, which could spell a drier than average summer and fall, a foreboding prospect for a thirsty region suffering through an extended drought.
Going into March, there’s a good chance most of California will see above-average precipitation, climate experts said. But judgment day is not until April 1, when officials start calculating just how much snow might be available to supply California’s water demands over the summer and fall.
Despite heavy rainfall in January, an above-average snowpack and rising reservoirs in some areas, the U.S. Drought Monitor says more than one above-average winter will be needed to ease all the impacts of long-term drought in California.
After the costliest of wildfire seasons ravaged the West last year, with three catastrophic blazes ripping through Lake County, the U.S. Forest Service may be headed for a showdown with Congress over how to cover the surging bill.
Sometime soon, and possibly by the end of this week, we’ll again bid goodbye to the old Parrotts Ferry Bridge. It’s been nice revisiting the 78-year-old concrete crossing, north of Columbia State Park in Tuolumne County, since it re-emerged from the murky waters of New Melones Reservoir last summer.
Any sign of precipitation in the forecast is a welcome sight for Californians these days. But with temperatures expected to be above normal this winter, California’s snowpack may not reach the heights it could.
Last fall, the consensus was that El Niño would give Southern California the best chance for above-average rains and much less of a chance to Northern California. But the opposite has turned out to be true.
A report released Friday by the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) — a non-partisan fiscal and policy adviser to the California Legislature — says that the ongoing drought necessitates continuing support.
El Niño has given Central California a wet – and welcome – start to the rainy season, raising water levels in foothill reservoirs and blanketing the Sierra with snow. But the tap has been turned off for the foreseeable future.
Money from a controversial “fire prevention” fee paid by many California foothill and mountain residents will be used to cut down trees that are dead or dying because of the drought and bark beetle infestation.
Drought followed by the rains of El Niño, and heat followed by cold snaps created a cauliflower price boom that now has turned to a bust, and a celery inflation that lingered just long enough, growers and industry experts say.
El Niño, which helped increase precipitation in California last month, is taking a break. … The U.S. Drought Monitor says “exceptional drought” was reduced slightly in just one area of the northern Sierra this week: El Dorado County.
The U.S. Drought Monitor says exceptional drought was reduced in one area of the northern Sierra this week, “despite heavy precipitation and rebounding stream flows in the short term the past few weeks.”
In the strongest indication yet that the California drought could be easing, officials said strict water conservation orders could be dramatically scaled back or even ended if El Niño storms keep pummeling the state into the spring.
Despite record January rainfall, an above-average snowpack and rising reservoirs, the state water board stuck to its conservation guns Tuesday, approving an eight-month extension of the existing drought-related emergency regulations with minor adjustments.
Nine months after California imposed its first-ever mandatory statewide water conservation rules to cope with the state’s historic drought, dozens of leaders of water agencies on Tuesday pleaded with the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown to relax them.
State water regulators voted to extend emergency conservation measures because of a drought, even though an increase in rain and snow this winter has improved California’s snowpack. But with the drought still severe, conservations efforts fell off in December.
One of California’s last great salmon runs tallied a perilously low number of surviving offspring in 2015, scientists said Monday, marking a second year of drought-driven problems for the Sacramento River chinook, which loom on the verge of extinction.
Worsening drought conditions may be doing more damage to forests in California and throughout the West than their ecosystems can handle, causing a spiral of death that could have a devastating impact, a U.S. Forest Service study concluded Monday.
Endangered native salmon suffered a second straight disastrous year in California’s drought, with all but 3 percent of the latest generation dying in too-shallow, too-hot rivers, federal officials said Monday.
Following a welcomed parade of El Niño storms drenching drought-stricken California, state officials on Tuesday will decide whether to extend emergency conservation orders, and reveal how much water Californians saved in December.
Folsom — which dwindled to 14% of capacity last year and became a global image of the California drought — has more than tripled in size since December, thanks to a series of storms that has brought above-average snow and rainfall to Northern California.
The decline also could influence whether farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will agree to help pay for Gov. Jerry Brown’s Delta tunnels, the $15.5 billion plan to re-engineer the fragile estuary with the goal of improving reliability of water deliveries to Southern California cities and farms.
The Department of Water Resources, mindful of the fruits of the El Niño weather pattern, boosted expected water deliveries to cities and farms from last month’s scant projection of 10 percent of what was requested to a slightly better 15 percent.
Damages from two destructive Northern California wildfires that killed six and sent thousands fleeing their homes topped $1 billion in insured losses, according to a preliminary estimate by the state’s insurance department.
After months of warnings by some officials that El Niño and winter rains were far from certain, the bounty of storms plowing through Northern California has opened hope that there could be a huge improvement in the state’s severe drought by spring.
California’s congressional delegation continued to wrangle over how to respond to the Golden State’s water crisis Thursday when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) released what she called a “discussion draft” of proposed legislation.
With a couple of weeks of rain and snow behind them and more on the horizon for the Sierra Nevada in Northern California, state water officials expressed cautious hope that this El Niño season could lift California out of its historic drought.
California lake levels are rising as fast as the stock market is falling, with Folsom Lake east of Sacramento rising an astonishing 44 feet in just over a month and Lake Oroville, the second most expansive water storage facility in the state rising another 20 feet.