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 Giant Sequoias in the Sierra Nevada are one of America’s treasures. But for the first time in the parks history the trees are showing visible signs of exhaustion due to the drought: thin and browning leaves.
California in the Great Drought is a living diorama of how the future is going to look across much of the United States as climate change sets in. … Now, the large dark bruise spreading across the state on the U.S. Drought Monitor map is a preview of a bone-dry world to come.
The drought in California is in its fourth year and remains a pressing concern in the state. But through careful conservation and planning, Lake Shasta’s level is 28 feet higher than it was at this time last year, said Federico Barajas, area manager for the Northern California Bureau of Reclamation.
Until things are back to normal, some folks in Glenn County want to see a halt to new well drilling. Tuesday, the issue will be before the Glenn County Board of Supervisors, at the request of farmer Sharron Ellis.
As water regulators continue to rapidly drain Folsom Lake to bolster supplies downstream, crews have begun construction of a floating barge that could keep water flowing to the city of Folsom this fall. … At current outflows, Folsom Lake would reach record-low depths within weeks.
More than 10,000 acres of scenic meadows, forests and trout streams in the Sierra Nevada 10 miles west of Lake Tahoe have been preserved in a deal in which environmentalists hope to prove that thinning out overgrown forests can increase California’s water supply.
Mindful that only nature can whip a drought, those who study and manage water in California are focused not on the current epic, but on better preparing the state for the next drought, and the drought after that, and the drought after that.
In the desert of California, where the Colorado River for decades has turned barren ground into an agricultural bounty, farmers are being paid not to grow crops on a portion of their land so that water can be shipped to thirsty cities on the coast.
With Lake Mead’s elevation hovering just three feet above a critical threshold that would trigger mandatory cuts in water supplies, Colorado River watchers are anxiously awaiting new projections from the Bureau of Reclamation due out Monday that will guide operations on the drought-stricken system for the next year.
The current El Nino, nicknamed Bruce Lee, is already the second strongest on record for this time of year and could be one of the most potent weather changers of the past 65 years, federal meteorologists say.
In California, after four dry years, people are hungry for wet weather, not only prattling on about precipitation but also tracking monsoons on the Internet and schooling themselves on the fine points of the jet stream — all in hope that the climatic pattern named after a child delivers an adult-size punch of moisture this winter.
The strengthening El Niño in the Pacific Ocean has the potential to become one of the most powerful on record, as warming ocean waters surge toward the Americas, setting up a pattern that could bring once-in-a-generation storms this winter to drought-parched California.
California officials launched two initiatives Wednesday to boost residential water conservation: The nation’s toughest water efficiency standards for showerheads and a $30 million rebate program to rip out grass lawns and replace old toilets.
State officials are estimating that Bidwell Canyon’s three available concrete lanes will close this week when the lake level drops 220 feet below the top of Oroville Dam. The dam is considered full at 900 feet above sea level.
Fish concerns will force Tulloch Lake to drop sooner than water agencies had announced in a milestone spring accord, while construction work meant to ensure that 7,000 people won’t run out of water for drinking and fire protection has not yet begun.
The gutted cinder-block homes slated for demolition in the western Fresno County town of Five Points are a haunting symbol of [Diana's] Toscano’s struggle during one of the worst droughts in California’s history: finding enough children to keep the local Migrant Head Start Center from shutting its doors.
The [Guadalupe] river that runs through America’s 10th-largest city has dried up, shriveling a source of civic pride that had welcomed back trout, salmon, beavers and other wildlife after years of restoration efforts.
Unlike the large industrial farms that give California its reputation as the salad bowl of the nation, urban farmers don’t have to let fields sit fallow to reduce water use. The small-scale operations leave room for more creative approaches to drought-friendly growing practices.
The drought that’s been desiccating California for the past four years has added new urgency to a decades-old debate about the best way to secure reliable water supplies for a growing population: new dams or efficiency measures.
Heeding the call to conserve water, tens of thousands of Southern California residents and businesses replaced their lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping with the help of $340 million in grants from the Metropolitan Water District.
The imminent danger from the devastating Rocky Fire in Lake County diminished Thursday and residents began to return to their evacuated homes, but Gov. Jerry Brown made clear in a visit to the area that California is still in danger.
While Southern California remains on track for a wet winter, the forecast for Northern California is still cloudy. … Precipitation in the top half of the state, where many of California’s big reservoirs are located, is most important water-wise, especially with supplies diminished after four dry years.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who called a state of emergency last week and visited the [Rocky Fire] area Thursday, blamed climate change for hot weather that contributes to drier forests and increased fire danger.
The drought in the West could be creating conditions in the Klamath River straddling Oregon and California for a repeat of a 2002 fish kill that claimed tens of thousands of adult salmon, biologists said.
Feeding on tinder-dry terrain and woodlands that have been parched by drought, the Rocky Fire is now 106 square miles … In the last three years, rain levels in California have been 24 to 30 inches below normal, according to the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, meaning the state has been missing about two years’ worth of rainfall.
Lawmakers are seeking budget solutions amid a superheated political climate as the wildland fires now raging across California, Washington and other Western states burn through federal dollars as well as forests. A new report warns the funding problem will worsen.
Tourists are flocking to the old Mormon settlement of St. Thomas, which was inundated by Lake Mead when the Hoover Dam was built and has slowly revealed itself in recent years. … In many ways, unearthing the past is a ritual of the drought cycle.
Despite the drought, local farmers this year will get 44 inches of water per parcel instead of 40, Oakdale irrigation leaders decided Tuesday, because customers so far have used much less than expected.
A Sacramento judge has given California water regulators the go-ahead to enforce pumping restrictions on a small Central Valley irrigation district, a decision seen as validation of the state’s broader authority to restrict water during the drought.
A federal plan to prevent a potential fish kill this summer on the lower Klamath River drew criticism on Monday from Hoopa Valley and Yurok tribe officials, who condemned the proposal as a lukewarm response to the threat of rising water temperatures and deadly parasites.
Last fall, farmers working the flat land along the Colorado River outside Blythe, California, harvested a lucrative crop of oranges, lettuce and alfalfa from fields irrigated with river water. But that wasn’t their only source of income.
Publicly and privately, California lawmakers are pushing to get a big water bill off its current glacial pace. But history cautions that California legislation this ambitious always takes time, and plenty of it.
It’s something of a relief, if a mixed one, that the drought has surged into the role of the latest scourge to freak out California. … But it’s mixed, of course, because the drought carries its own dangers, and the ultimate solution — rain — remains wholly out of the power of politicians or everyday Californians.
Working with the nonprofit Self-Help Enterprises, the drought relief program will furnish a tank and small pump to restore water for homeowners with dry wells. … The costs are covered by the $1 billion drought relief package approved by Gov. Jerry Brown in March, officials said.
Despite record heat, drought-conscious Californians managed to slash urban water use by 27% in June and demonstrated once again that they were on track to meet Gov. Jerry Brown’s historic 25% conservation order, state water officials said Thursday.
Despite the hottest June on record, Californians cut back on their water use statewide by by 27.3 percent statewide compared with June 2013, a reduction that exceeded the level ordered in the governor’s emergency drought regulations.
Drought-ravaged Californians and the water agencies that serve them cut water use 27.3 percent in June — the second time that communities statewide met the governor’s 25 percent goal, but the first time they did so under the threat of fines.
With recent fish counting surveys on two Klamath River tributaries showing alarmingly low numbers for one of the last wild Chinook salmon runs, local fisheries experts are growing increasingly concerned about the effects of the ongoing statewide drought and the possibility of a devastating fish kill in the near future when fall-run salmon begin to enter the system.
As the state suffers through its fourth year of drought, most Californians say the lack of water is the single most important environmental issue facing the state, a dramatic increase over the number who expressed similar concerns a year ago. A survey by the nonprofit Public Policy Institute of California reported that 58 percent of Californians ranked the drought as the top issue — up 23 points from July 2014 and up 50 points from July 2011.
Almost 40 years after it began operation, California’s four-year drought has turned the state’s fourth largest reservoir, capable of storing 2.4 million acre-feet of water, into a shallow brown pool that holds 343,000 acre-feet, less than 15 percent of its capacity.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein filed her long-awaited legislative response to California’s water crisis on Wednesday, hoping to broker a compromise that has eluded Congress through four years of fallow fields and brown lawns.
Nearly two-thirds of Californians say global warming is contributing to the state’s drought, but there’s a distinct partisan divide, according to a survey released Wednesday. … When it comes to drought-fighting measures that hit closer to home, the survey found strong support …
Voter concern over California’s drought is “extremely high and intensifying,” according to a new poll, while a majority of respondents said they would willingly pay “a few more dollars a month” to improve state water infrastructure.
Saying it might cause more harm than good, East Bay water officials Tuesday rejected the idea of giving homeowners a break for ripping up live grass and replacing it with plastic turf — drought or no drought.
When it came down to it, the number crunchers at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California knew they saved a lot more water for every dollar spent subsidizing low-flush toilets than drought-friendly lawns.
Through July 25, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had responded to about 3,900 wildfires in 2015 – about 1,300 more fires than the agency typically fights by July’s end, preliminary state data show. California fire officials blame the drought and historically dry conditions.
The depletion of groundwater stores also is a problem familiar to farmers struggling with drought in California, where pumping for irrigation has put the state’s Central Valley Aquifer under the most strain of any aquifer in the U.S., according to NASA satellite data.
While Lake Tahoe’s iconic blueness and clarity often garner all the attention during annual State of the Lake reports, it was the lake’s increasing rate of evaporation in 2014 that most surprised the report’s author this year.
Normally, rivers from interior California help push back that saltier water and keep the Delta fresh, which is important for people and fish alike. But this year the rivers are low, which allows the Bay water to move toward the east and invade portions of the tidally influenced estuary.
Almond farmers who planned a mid-summer getaway may need to put those plans on hold. Already the nuts are at the phase of hull split, which comes just before its time to shake the trees. Butte County Agricultural Commissioner Richard Price said all crops are early this year.
[Donna] Johnson is known as the water angel. … The 72-year-old is her town’s biggest advocate, sitting in on drought funding meetings with county and state leaders, shepherding reporters from around the globe so no one forgets East Porterville.
Almost half of the city [of Sacramento] utility’s nearly 126,000 residential connections don’t have meters tracking and tallying how much they use. Because of this, there’s no way of precisely knowing how much water goes missing because of leaky pipes, loose connections, theft or at city hydrants.
The drastic drop in acres burned in the past year is in large part because of an increase in the number of crews and aircrafts CalFire was able to obtain through the state declaring a drought emergency last year, officials say.
Firefighters battled flames in mountainous terrain Thursday above opposite sides of the Sacramento Valley, signaling the start of what could be a particularly combustible fire season in drought-stricken California.
California’s vast network of reservoirs, canals and rivers is among the world’s most engineered water systems, but it is tough to prove when water is illegally siphoned because of sparse metering, infrequent reporting and a complex web of tens of thousands of water rights.
Most of us hardly think about it, but when we turn on the tap, we’re not just using water — we’re also using energy. And you may be surprised to learn just how much. … It takes a lot of power to get water to our taps — conveyance from the source, treatment, and distribution — not to mention cleaning the wastewater we send down drains.
The El Niño hitting the mountains of the north is critical because California’s vast waterworks rely on rain and snow from the Sierra to supply farms and cities. By contrast, much of the rain that falls in Southern California ends up in the ocean.
Rejecting the pleas of California officials worried about water conservation, the state Supreme Court on Wednesday left intact a lower court ruling that makes it tougher for cities and water districts to impose punishing higher rates on water wasters.
Ever since we crossed the first bridge into California’s delta, I’ve been in a world that ambles and rambles and moves with the river. … There are 1,100 miles of sloughs and tributaries and 55 islands surrounded by the water that California is fighting over.
Regulators proposed a record $1.5-million fine Monday against a Northern California irrigation district after it allegedly diverted more than 670 million gallons of water illegally — a rare enforcement action that escalates the legal battle between Gov. Jerry Brown and the state’s oldest water rights holders.
California regulators are seeking a $1.5 million penalty from a Tracy-area water district for allegedly illegally tapping the delta for farmers and thousands of homes, marking a significant escalation in the state’s push to get big users to go along with drought-forced reductions.
State drought regulators went on the offensive against another agricultural irrigation district Monday, proposing a $1.55 million fine against a Delta-area agency accused of diverting water illegally over a two-week period.
When it comes to watching water use as California’s four-year drought drags into midsummer, water districts statewide are turning to software apps that show both customers and utilities gallon-by-gallon details unavailable a few years ago.
A 2-inch-long brass cylinder, the modest-looking plumbing device is to water wasters what handcuffs are to shoplifters and parking boots are to motorists piling up unpaid tickets. And now water agencies struggling to meet California’s tough new conservation rules have the devices at the ready and are giving them a fresh look.
It’s hard to know how many people are scrambling to get water this summer. … If the long-term solution is waiting for well driller to deepen a well, the quick-fix is calling a man with a truck who will deliver water.
Rain, sometimes heavy and accompanied by thunder and lightning, fell over Southern California on Sunday, the second wave of a rare summer storm system that brought a weekend of beach closures, power outages and warm, muggy air to the parched region.
Mark DuBois did the impossible for five days in May 1979. With boats and helicopters combing the Stanislaus River canyon searching for him, the rising water of New Melones Reservoir practically lapping at his feet and chained to a rock in the canyon, DuBois hid beneath a small ledge to avoid detection and possible arrest.
Ralph Petroff is changing the way California homes use water. As executive chairman of Nexus eWater, Petroff last week unveiled the first housing subdivision in the United States with on-site water recycling standard in every home.
With California’s historic drought evaporating the livelihood of thousands of Mexican migrants, Mexico will start offering them emergency rent assistance, clothing, food and even a plane ticket back home, said the region’s new consul general in her first major media interview.
The House of Representatives’ passage Thursday of an ambitious and controversial California water bill now starts a round of maneuvering that will show whether a divided Congress can get its act together and legislate.
Nearly 40 million people in seven states depend on the [Colorado] river, a population some forecasts say could nearly double in the next 50 years. … In the decades to come, federal officials say, significant shortages are likely to force water-supply cutbacks in parts of the basin, the first in the more than 90 years that the river has been managed under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
Paul Matuska is the closest thing the American West has to a water cop, and his beat includes Needles, Calif., a beleaguered desert town midway between Flagstaff, Ariz., and Los Angeles. … Mr. Matuska, a hydrologist, is one of about a dozen accountants for the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which controls water distribution along the lower half of the Colorado River.
Healdsburg’s Aaron Mandell wants to build a $30 million desalination plant in the San Joaquin Valley that would use the warmth of the sun to distill former irrigation water and reuse it on thirsty farms. … “I think everybody is trying to stretch the supplies every way they can,” said Jennifer Bowles, executive director of the nonprofit Water Education Foundation in Sacramento.
Jay Famiglietti is a Senior Water Scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and a Professor of Earth Systems Science at UC Irvine. We asked him if California is seeing an intersection of the drought and climate change.
A week after getting slapped down in court, California drought regulators went back on the offensive Thursday in their campaign to curb water use, launching a crackdown against a small irrigation district that allegedly took water illegally from a river in San Joaquin County.
At a time when water levels in Lake Mead were getting so low that officials prepared for drastic cutbacks, it started raining. A series of powerful storms pummeled the mountains that feed the Colorado River, a key source of water for California, Arizona and Nevada.
More than a third of the largest groundwater basins in the world are being depleted faster than they are getting replenished, and there are little to no accurate data showing just how much water is left in them, according to two new studies published Tuesday.
California water regulators flexed their muscles by ordering a group of farmers to stop pumping from a branch of the San Joaquin River amid an escalating battle over how much power the state has to protect waterways that are drying up in the drought.
State water officials on Wednesday softened their approach to telling thousands of California farmers to stop pumping from rivers to irrigate crops during the drought but warned that stiff penalties still await anybody who takes water they don’t have a right to use.
State officials, who are already urging people to let their grass yards wither during the drought, passed new rules Wednesday essentially banning them from being planted around new commercial buildings, while limiting grass to about 25 percent of the landscaping at new homes.
Today [July 15] the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) issued a letter rescinding and clarifying its previous curtailment notices. Today’s letter walks away from the strong language of the previous curtailment notices issued by the SWRCB, which the Sacramento Superior Court found coercive and in violation of constitutional due process safeguards in a ruling last Friday. … Friday’s ruling was a setback for the SWRCB and it demonstrated the difficulty in swiftly administering the water rights system during the ongoing critical drought.
Although treating wastewater generally ranks alongside police and fire safety, schools, and transit as the top priorities of any sensible city hall, new ideas about cleaning up sewage almost never attract headlines or TV airtime. … It has taken a four-year drought in California to change that.
The California Water Commission is scheduled to consider new rules Wednesday that would significantly slash the amount of water that can be used by landscapes surrounding newly built houses, businesses and schools.
By now, most customers of a water district know the new conservation rules. … However, what about people who live in more rural areas and in smaller water districts that have different water conservation rules?
While harvesting 350 acres of wheat, farmer Deke Dormer collected 819 eggs in his field. The eggs were then placed in egg cartons, taken to incubators for hatching, and will be returned to wetlands when the ducklings are old enough to survive on their own.
Federal officials Tuesday will begin releasing a disputed allotment of San Joaquin River water from Millerton Lake to a group of west San Joaquin Valley growers with water rights dating back to the 1870s.
Frank Cody wasn’t surprised to learn that at least 12 million trees across California recently have died from a lethal mix of bugs and long-term drought. Business is booming for the South Lake Tahoe tree service business owner.
Health officials haven’t reported any infections in California yet this year. But as the West Nile season begins, summer temperatures rise and the 4-year-old drought drags on, the virus has now been detected in birds in 31 California counties — six more than were reported at this point last year.
In a significant ruling that could hinder California’s ability to order mass water cutbacks, a judge told state drought regulators Friday they can’t slash the water rights of four Central Valley irrigation districts until each had a chance to defend itself.
During the July 4 weekend, the U.S. Forest Service issued urgent instructions to hikers and campers to be exceedingly cautious in lighting campfires across California’s tinder dry Sierra Nevada mountain range.
The chances that California will begin clawing its way out of the drought with a wet winter got a bump Thursday with a federal report showing an El Niño weather pattern continuing to strengthen in the Pacific.
When Gov. Jerry Brown called on drought-weary Californians to reconsider their love of thirsty, nonnative landscaping, some businesses and homeowners responded by tearing out their once-cherished lawns.
It’s been nearly 60 years since a species went extinct in the Delta, but the latest survey of the diminutive Delta smelt makes their demise “increasingly likely” this year, a leading expert said this week.
For salmon to survive in Butte Creek, the fish will need as much water as they can get from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. … PG&E showed the Enterprise-Record that water system Tuesday during a helicopter tour.
California water regulators heard proposals for a statewide drought fee and hefty fines for water-guzzling homeowners as part of a Wednesday workshop discussing how to implement Gov. Jerry Brown’s order for water pricing to maximize conservation.
Starting Wednesday, outdoor showers at all state beaches are shut off as a way to conserve water during the drought, California State Parks officials announced this week. The move is designed to save up to 18 million gallons of water annually.
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power officials are seeking an increase in rates over the next five years in a bid to boost water conservation amid California’s drought and expand repairs of crumbling water mains and electricity infrastructure.
This 2-day, 1-night tour traveled through the San Joaquin Valley to explore the impacts of California’s unprecedented four-year drought on the nation’s breadbasket and what steps are being taken to avert disaster.
California Gov. Jerry Brown called for an overhaul in water pricing as part of his sweeping drought order, and regulators on Wednesday will discuss how to best do that in light of legal questions over rates designed to encourage conservation.
Modesto is poised to take a big step Tuesday in its project to send highly treated wastewater to drought-stricken West Side farmers as soon as 2018, though the Turlock Irrigation District remains a staunch opponent over concerns of how the project will affect its groundwater basin.
Soquel Creek Water District leaders are looking at purchasing a new piece of water main-flushing technology as one of several potential water-saving projects that they could fund through fees paid by new district development permits.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials, who operate the Central Valley Project, relied on a faulty gauge in April and overestimated the amount of cold water behind Shasta Dam. That error might seem trivial, but not in this fourth parched year of the drought.
For most of the 1900s, the bureau’s [of Reclamation] system — which grew into the largest wholesale water utility in the country — worked. But the West of the 21st century is not the West of Roosevelt.
He’s a fifth-generation cattle farmer, who bought land in the 1960’s — with water rights that were granted before 1914. But two weeks ago, the pumps were turned off and there’s no water now in his irrigation canal.
Bruce Nelson was just a baby when Lake Mead was at its mightiest. That was 1983 — ancient history to the 32-year-old whose family has run marinas here for three generations — when the lake gushed over Hoover Dam like a desert Niagara Falls.
Billboards and TV commercials, living room visits, guess-your-water-use booths, and awards for water stinginess – a wealthy swath of Orange County that once had one of the worst records for water conservation in drought-stricken California is turning things around, proving it’s possible to get people to change their ways.
For many Californians, the state’s long drought has meant small inconveniences such as shorter showers and restrictions on watering lawns. But in two rural valleys, the Coachella southeast of Los Angeles and the San Joaquin to the north, farmworkers and other poor residents are feeling its impact in a far more serious and personal way.
Strands of silver hair fell into Annie Costanzo’s face as she wielded a sledgehammer against the brick walkway in her backyard. Plumes of dust and debris filled the air, and reddish-pink shards scattered in the wake of the 64-year-old sculptor’s latest water conservation project.