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.
What began as an emergency response to the drought has dragged on and on. A year after the first tank was installed, tanks are now the primary source of water for more than 540 households in Tulare County, the epicenter of California’s four-year drought.
Water experts in Yolo County are actively monitoring water wells to measure the groundwater supply. … The groundwater supplies about 30 percent of the water in our region, according to the Northern California Water Association, which represents water rights holders in the Sacramento Valley.
State regulators said Tuesday they are confident that residents of drought-stricken California will meet long-term water conservation goals but worried that the onslaught of storms dousing the state might lead to backsliding.
California residents continue to ease back on the taps, but their efforts are slipping a bit, according to data released Tuesday that show cities and towns missed the state’s 25 percent water savings mandate for the second straight month.
After a year of hype and hope, El Niño’s punch is finally arriving in California, bringing a series of storms to soak the Bay Area and most of the rest of the drought-stricken state through this week and probably into next.
After taking the measurement and leaving a path of boot prints in his wake, Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, told a group of tightly bundled reporters that the snowpack was “encouraging, but still obviously not where we’d like to be.”
Don’t be surprised to see a flurry of new legislative proposals in 2016 that push toilet water recycling, rooftop water tanks and underground systems to filter sewer sludge for field irrigation in California. Call it the Australian plan.
The message that Maria L. Gutierrez gave legislators on Capitol Hill was anguished and blunt: California’s historic drought had not merely left farmland idle. It had destroyed Latino farm workers’ jobs, shuttered Latino businesses and thrown Latino families on the street. Yet Congress had turned a deaf ear to their pleas for more water to revive farming and farm labor.
The water content of the Sierra Nevada snowpack in drought-stricken California was 136 percent of normal Wednesday when officials took the winter’s first manual survey – an encouraging result after nearly no snow was found at the site in April.
Gov. Jerry Brown, Starbucks and Tom Selleck drove the nationwide curiosity and concern over California’s fourth year of dreadful drought conditions, according to a survey of billions of online search engine records.
His [Martín Hernandez Mena] was one of dozens of shanties that grew where little else does after four years of California’s crippling drought. … Mena’s is a story about what water gives and takes away — how California’s farmworkers are an ecological crisis away from losing their jobs and their homes, with no safety net.
Some of the world’s biggest temperature jumps are happening in lakes – an ominous sign that suggests problems such as harmful algae blooms and low-oxygen zones hazardous to fish will get worse, says a newly released scientific report.
The U.S. Forest Service said officials have started assessing the renewal of a 1978 permit that Nestle has long been using to pipe water out of the San Bernardino National Forest to produce Arrowhead brand bottled water.
As water utilities and their customers increasingly look to gray water and runoff from storms to supplement their supply amid drought, more guidelines and research are needed to ensure that the water is safe, researchers said in a report released Wednesday.
This free briefing sponsored by the Department of Water Resources and the Water Education Foundation will discuss forecasts of water project operations in the coming year.
Water year 2016 has officially begun, and all eyes are on the weather and the potential runoff. But even if the projected heavy El Niño becomes reality, the state’s drought-impacted reservoirs are still a major concern.
Not content to hope for El Niño storms, state officials on Tuesday approved a plan that — though watered down in the end — could result in better flows next year for endangered fish species decimated by drought.
The Paris conference brought cheers not only from renewable energy advocates but from water groups. For years, organizations that focus on the world’s freshwater resources felt marginalized in the climate change debate. A warmer planet means nastier droughts, bigger floods, and unsettling perturbations in the water cycle, but the question of adaptation was mostly ignored by diplomats.
California regulators set a minimum level of water that should be held behind Shasta and Folsom lakes Tuesday in an effort to avoid another catastrophic die-off of Sacramento River salmon, but they reserved the right to change the limit if El Niño rains fill up the reservoirs.
California drought regulators on Tuesday backed off a controversial plan to withhold water from farms and cities next year in an effort to preserve an endangered species of salmon, instead choosing a more flexible approach they said still could do the trick.
Debate over a plan to address California’s drought continued Friday as the Republicans in the state’s delegation held a news conference blaming Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) for not supporting their bid to insert the plan into a must-pass spending bill.
California lawmakers’ repeated failures to agree on legislation to resolve the state’s seemingly endless battle over how to use its water resources raise new questions about whether they’ll ever be able to find a compromise. This year, the climate looked ripe for an agreement.
In what looks like a who’s who of local celebrities, the latest list of the East Bay’s biggest water users released Thursday includes San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey; Roy Jacuzzi, inventor of the namesake whirlpool tub; and Motley Crue lead singer Vince Neil.
The utter collapse of negotiations means a California water package that in its latest manifestation spanned 92 pages will not be slipped into a much larger, much-pass omnibus federal spending package needed to keep the federal government open.
About 72 million gallons of water were used to irrigate San Diego County’s thirsty and illegal marijuana operations, enough to serve 440 families for a year, and that’s only for the ones that were found.
It’s shaping up as the biggest snowstorm to hit the central Sierra in two years. … After four years of drought, its reservoirs are dry: Folsom Lake last week hit its lowest point since record-keeping began 40 years ago.
California Republicans will continue trying to include language addressing the state’s drought in a must-pass bill to fund the federal government, over objections from the state’s Democratic delegation.
A closed-door attempt to rewrite California water law crashed late last week in a public row between Sen. Dianne Feinstein and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy that could doom drought legislation for yet another year.
Municipal water agencies from Sacramento and elsewhere pleaded for relief from California’s mandatory drought cutbacks Monday, arguing they should be given credit for coping with arid climates and developing their own supplies.
Scientists were knee deep in the Feather River on Friday, systematically injecting 20,000 fertilized salmon eggs into the bottom of the river. … The eggs were injected near the Oroville Wildlife Area, just a few miles north of Gridley.
The State Water Resources Control Board meets Monday on potential changes to mandatory water conservation targets should the drought persist into 2016. … The Regional Water Authority is joining several other water providers from across the state to propose an objective, science-based approach to adjust water conservation targets for climate.
A California water bill that skeptics say has been cloaked in excessive secrecy will probably miss its Capitol Hill train this year. … The latest plot turn in California water politics bears a striking resemblance to past Capitol Hill narratives.
Some of California’s Christmas trees are looking a bit more like a “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree this year. After four years of drought have stressed and stunted trees on area farms, growers are feeling the pinch.
Farmers are no strangers to struggle or drought. But this four-year drought is different than others, they say. It’s more widespread, touching nearly everyone who turns on the tap or starts an irrigation pump.
Officials with the US Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that operates Shasta Dam, have blamed the drought for the mass salmon die off and say there simply wasn’t enough water to go around. … But environmentalists and fishermen note that by the end of summer 2015, many farmers in the Central Valley had received 75 percent of their water contract allotments, while at least 95 percent of the endangered winter-run Chinook’s fertilized eggs and newborn fish had been killed.
With rivers still flowing low, the freshwater Delta is once more turning salty. Officials are already considering installation of another emergency drought barrier in the Delta in April, to keep that saltwater at bay.
Public water agencies that serve millions of residents in drought-weary California might only receive 10 percent of expected supplies in 2016 – half the amount that flowed to them this year through the state’s massive system of reservoirs and canals, state officials say.
Californians posted a 22 percent savings in water use in October, marking the first month residents have missed the state’s mandatory 25 percent conservation target since enforcement of the cutbacks began in June, officials said Tuesday in Sacramento.
California officials announced Tuesday that the state’s massive water delivery system, which carries mountain runoff to cities and farms, will likely supply 10 percent of the water requested next year due to the drought — half of what was provided this year.
But during an unusually hot October, state regulators say, water savings hit a snag. For the first time, residents and businesses fell short of the statewide target, cutting their water consumption by 22.2% in October compared with the same month in 2013.
Largely lost in the statewide discussion about fallowed crops, depleted reservoirs and brown lawns, is the impact of California’s drought on hunting. The succession of four dry years has dried up many of the natural marshes and rice fields used by the estimated 55,000 people who hunt waterfowl in California.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s latest executive order provisionally extends California’s drought restrictions into next fall and calls on the State Water Resources Control Board to consider adjusting the rules in the coming weeks.
This month’s rainfall and cooler temperatures have helped lessen the strain on salmon migrating on the Eel River, but not near enough to ease the concerns of local researchers. And they have their reasons.
As many as 27 percent of Californians say they will not buy a live Christmas tree this year because of the ongoing drought. That’s according to a new survey by the American Christmas Tree Association. … In Oregon, which produces more Christmas trees than any other state, the market is holding up just fine, even though that state is experiencing a milder drought of its own.
Thanks in part to El Niño, a series of strong storms have blanketed the Sierras with snow. Another storm this week is expected to deliver another layer of the white stuff — and draw skiers back to resorts.
A massive storm, reaching across about half of the state, is expected to move in Tuesday and peak Wednesday, where it will drop up to 18 inches of snow on mountain summits from Shasta County and Lake Tahoe to Yosemite, said Nathan Owen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.
The East Bay Municipal Utility District, which manages the salmon on the Mokelumne River, relies on a camera that records every single salmon swimming past Woodbridge Dam. The footage is relayed to East Bay MUD’s office three miles away.
A California law – that was passed to respond to the drought – allows artificial turf on all residential property. But, a Sacramento city councilman says the law should allow cities to restrict its use.
Four years into the worst drought in California’s recorded history, the contrast between the strict enforcement on Californians struggling to conserve and the unchecked profligacy in places like Bel Air has unleashed anger and indignation — among both the recipients of the fines, who feel helpless to avoid them, and other Californians who see the biggest water hogs getting off scot-free.
One of the most powerful El Niños on record continues gathering strength and is looking increasingly likely to bring heavy rains to key Northern California areas that provide water for the rest of the state, according to a new forecast.
After four years of unrelenting drought, nearly all of California is likely to see at least some relief this winter, federal climate experts said Thursday, offering a first real message of hope for the bone-dry state.
October’s temperature was the most above-normal month in history. … [NOAA climate scientist Jessica] Blunden and other scientists blame a potent and strengthening El Nino on top of accelerating man-made global warming.
The report from the Public Policy Institute of California says the state’s system for allocating water is fragmented, inconsistent and lacks transparency. It says the problems keep the state from adequately managing water in a drought.
In 35 years, nobody’s seen numbers like these. In a personal survey this week of 125 recreation lakes, 33 are under 25 percent full, and that includes 19 that are less than 10 percent full and four that are empty.
Escalating the fight over California’s diminished water supply, a coalition of environmental groups sued Central Valley farmers and the federal government over the possible extinction facing an endangered run of salmon.
It will take dozens of rain storms to alter the effects of California’s four-year drought. … With Folsom Lake now at just 15 percent of capacity, water experts are once again urging Californians to conserve.
The drought is driving up water rates all over California as utilities scramble to cover revenue losses and pay for additional supplies. There will be no relief for low-income residents, who are caught in a legal conundrum that prevents most water agencies from discounting their rates.
When the California Water Commission this year surveyed water agencies about storage proposals that might qualify for funding under Proposition 1, the 2014 water bond approved by state voters, half the responses involved groundwater projects, including one from [Gary] Serrato’s [Fresno Irrigation] district.
As California enters the fifth consecutive year of unprecedented drought, Congress is debating two competing bills designed to provide federal drought relief to California agriculture. The proposals reveal stark differences in proposed federal water and environmental policy.
Two areas of California considered to be in “exceptional” drought were upgraded to the “extreme” category — the best either area has seen since at least the beginning of summer, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
It takes a lot of water to feed the lush lawns that drape in vibrant folds across the Menlo Country Club’s golf course on the edge of Woodside. And, apparently, a crippling drought is seen as no reason to pull back on the spigot.
A legal battle is brewing in Washington over President Barack Obama’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, setting states economically dependent on fossil fuels against those already suffering from longer droughts, stronger storms and higher seas.
Across California, after years of punishing drought, reservoirs that normally fill canals and make crops bloom are greatly depleted or even empty. Some say that getting more water into storage by building more dams is key.
California is soul searching right now on how to deal with the drought. Should it build more dams? Or are there already enough dams — more than 1,400 — in the state, and not enough water to fill them up anyway?
With portions of the Tahoe region reporting 465 percent above the average snowpack following the first winter storm of the season, Monday, Nov. 2, it’s clear the Sierra Nevada is in for a winter for the ages. Right?
Unfazed by the taint of “toilet-to-tap,” the Water Replenishment District of Southern California unveiled another in a series of water recycling projects Tuesday that will help end its reliance on imported water and provide drought-insurance for its customers.
As the worst drought in California history threatens to enter a fifth straight year, officials are advocating a variety of water reuse projects they say will reduce Southern California’s unquenchable thirst for imported water.
Calling it “the worst epidemic of tree mortality in modern history,” Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency this week, asking for swift removal of dried-out trees either through controlled burns or as feed for biomass energy plants.
California’s four-year drought has lowered Mono Lake more than five feet. … In this case, another dry winter that pushes the state into a fifth drought year would push new and potentially contentious Mono Lake management issues to the forefront.
Lamenting “the worst epidemic of tree mortality” in the state’s modern history, Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday sought federal aid to remove dead trees from California forests and called for more controlled burns to reduce the risk of wildfire.
UC Riverside economist Christopher Thornberg told hundreds of business leaders at a recent economic forecast that there is no drought. … The content of his address surprised and frustrated some water officials, who said the declaration of drought is based on hydrology, not economics.
Regulators are praising the Californians who conserved water in September, but issuing the first fines to four urban water suppliers who waited too late to conserve or failed to enforce conservation standards.
In their zeal to conserve water during the fourth year of a historic drought, many East Bay residents have become water snitches, tattling on neighbors for hosing down driveways, leaving sprinklers on all night and even excessive bathing.
Recent high tides and brief mid-September rains gave some Eel River salmon a fleeting chance to move closer to their spawning grounds. But a lack of adequate flows on the river is causing many fish to fall ill as they crowd within small pools for weeks at a time, according to a recent survey by the Eel River Recovery Project.
The batch of 1,098 East Bay Municipal Utility District customers who sucked up more than their share during a 60-day billing period this summer was a who’s who of some of the richest people in the Bay Area.
Right now, migrating waterfowl are looking for wet places to land and feed. … This week, several Sacramento River farm water districts finalized a deal with the federal Bureau of Reclamation to use water later in the year, to provide water for birds in November.
State officials plan to tell Californians what penalties they are taking against communities that fail to meet a mandated 25 percent reduction in water use when they announce usage figures Friday, in the state’s battle against a widespread drought.
In the drought-ravaged Central Valley, scientists are using a new imaging technology to find ancient worlds of trapped water, hidden hundreds of feet underground. … This week, a helicopter swept 60 linear miles of parched fields in the Tulare Irrigation District in one of the most arid regions of California.
As California braces for torrential downpours this winter from El Niño, authorities have stockpiled extra sandbags across the state while putting hundreds of personnel through flood-control training, officials told state lawmakers on Wednesday.
A Wednesday state Senate hearing dove into a topic on the mind of many Californians, examining how an anticipated El Niño surge of wetness could affect residents and force a pivot from drought preparedness to flood response.
One of the last wild runs of chinook salmon in California is sinking fast amid the four-year drought and now appears perilously close to oblivion after the federal agency in charge of protecting marine life documented the death of millions of young fish and eggs in the Sacramento River.
For the second straight year, huge numbers of juvenile winter-run Chinook salmon appear to have baked to death in the Sacramento River because of California’s drought-stretched water supplies, bringing the endangered species a step closer to extinction.
Over the last four months, the residents and businesses of the Indian Wells Valley Water District have cut their water consumption by about 25%, and General Manager Don Zdeba thinks that’s “pretty darn good.”
Many Californians have already mentally deposited oceans of rainwater into our depleted reservoirs, thanks to the hype surrounding a projected Godzilla El Niño this year. The only problem is that actual deposits haven’t really amounted to much just yet.
With the harvest largely over, the State Water Resources Control Board said there’s enough water in the Sacramento-San Joaquin watersheds so that holders of senior water rights could once more divert water from rivers and streams.
Irrigation leaders illegally agreed to sell Stanislaus River water to outsiders, an Oakdale Irrigation District customer alleges in a formal complaint. … The district has explained the deal in meetings, a news release and an Oct. 18 advertisement in The Modesto Bee.
The cash-for-grass program has existed for years in Southern California, but it reached a pinnacle this year, as the drought intensified and local water districts increased the size of the rebates, sometimes to as much as $4 a square foot. … But the costly initiatives are not simply about conservation.
An epic rainstorm brought mudslides, flooding and road closures to Southern California recently, but it did little to ease the state’s four-year drought. … The problem revolves around El Nino’s typical behavior and the lopsided nature of California’s mostly man-made plumbing system.
With the strongest El Niño conditions in nearly 20 years already underway in the Pacific Ocean and chances increasing for heavy storms this winter, federal emergency officials on Friday urged Californians to buy flood insurance — even those who don’t live near creeks or rivers.
Former sewer water was the drink of choice Saturday at an event in Alivso to show off the county’s new advanced water purification plant and tout the potential for recycled water. … The verdict? Many thought it tasted pretty good.
The governor should use his emergency powers under the existing drought to ban new wells in areas where groundwater pumping is causing significant economic damage. I [Gerald H. Meral] don’t take this position lightly. I understand it would harm people who need groundwater to keep their farms going.
Decades before someone coined the Twitter hashtag #droughtshaming and people began posting YouTube videos of their neighbors’ drowning lawns, California water suppliers encouraged conservation by releasing the names of their biggest water hogs.
Few places in California are more remote from urban life than Round Valley, but the watershed and [Richard] Wilson are central to understanding why Governor Jerry Brown and other powerful interests are avidly pursuing several multibillion-dollar dam projects and two massive water tunnels that are strikingly similar to plans laid out in economic and engineering charts in California in the early-1950s.
It was the latest in a series of October storms that could provide a preview of what’s in store in the coming months as an El Niño system moves in and threatens to bring unstable weather to the Southwest…. California is bracing for a rainy winter, potentially easing the drought while creating new problems such as flooding and mudslides.
Suburban homeowners ripping out thirsty lawns are dotting their new drought-tolerant landscapes with milkweed native to California’s deserts and chaparral – plants that have the potential to help save water and monarchs at the same time, because the female monarch will only lay her eggs on milkweed.
The Forest Service had estimated that nearly 12.5 million trees in the state’s southern and central forests were dead. But as [Greg] Asner peered down upon the same forests from his airplane at 6,000 feet, he saw something far worse.
Drought doesn’t instantly ravage the way flooding does. It advances at a steady, determined pace, building and spreading during several years. Fields wither, reservoirs drop to dangerously low levels and the memory of what constitutes a normal water supply becomes more distant.
Read the excerpt below from the Sept./Oct. 2015 issue along with the editor’s note. Click here to subscribe to Western Water and get full access.
Around California, drought has taken a toll on small “agritourism” farms that once thrived on the Halloween season crowd. Some have shut down, while others have stopped growing their own pumpkins or trimmed acres from their corn mazes and canceled activities that require water.
The ash of the Rocky fire was still hot when Gov. Jerry Brown strode to a bank of television cameras beside a blackened ridge and, flanked by firefighters, delivered a battle cry against climate change.
With October comes a waiting season. Californians have more or less survived one more dry year — with shower buckets and brown lawns, with ever deeper wells and fallowed croplands; in short, with every trick known to those who consume or manage water.
Water suppliers take different approaches on what they reveal about guzzlers even though California’s more than 400 water districts are under state orders to reduce use. … East Bay water officials said it’s simple to them: Customers were outed for violating a district policy.
As Congress considers an appropriate response to the Western drought, our experience in California gives us a keen sense of how Congress can best help. … I [California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird] take passage of Proposition 1 as a resounding endorsement of a constructive approach that does not pit urban or agricultural users against one another and does not undermine water rights or environmental protection laws.
Oakland A’s big cheese Billy Beane, famous for his statistical money-saving approach to assembling a baseball team, has been far less economical with his water, according to an East Bay Municipal Utility District roster that places him among the top water hogs in the East Bay.
The East Bay Municipal Utility District on Thursday released a list of customers who were hit with monetary penalties because they pumped about 1,000 gallons of water per day during the past two months. That’s compared to what the average residential customer uses: about 250 gallons per day.
As California enters a potential fifth year of drought, the swimming pool demolition industry — a niche, to be sure — is thriving, operators say, with new companies entering the business to profit from Californians’ concerns about water scarcity.
The tow trucks are busy these days at Lake Camanche, rescuing drivers who get stuck on the sandy road that drops toward the receding shoreline. … And at New Melones Lake, a ghostly forest and portions of an old town have emerged as the water drops nearly one vertical football field below the spillway at the dam.
Wildlife managers are worried again this year: Will there be enough wet habitat for millions of birds in the Sacramento Valley? Before the drought, 250,000-300,000 acres of California rice lands was flooded each winter.
Northern Los Angeles County was pummeled Thursday by a series of torrential downpours that caused mudslides and flash floods that inundated roads, trapped drivers and forced the closure of nearly 40 miles of Interstate 5, cutting off California’s main north-south artery.
In the latest sign that El Niño conditions are likely to bring wet weather to drought-parched California, federal scientists on Thursday announced for the first time that the entire state — including the northern part of California from the Bay Area to the Oregon border — is now expected to receive average or above-average rainfall this winter.