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 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.
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.”