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.
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.
The rain and snow falling across Northern California in recent days is by no means extraordinary. … But inch by inch, forecasters say, it’s doing the work necessary if California is to reverse years of epic drought.
Even as California has marched out unprecedented water restrictions during the drought, the spigots at thousands of farms and ranches have gone largely unmonitored — a vestige of the state’s Gold Rush-era water policy.
When the first hints of El Niño developed last year, experts believed that the brunt of the rain would occur in Southern California rather than Northern California. So far this season, the opposite has happened.
Acknowledging the challenges posed by the hot, dry climate endemic to much of inland California, state drought regulators Friday proposed easing the water-conservation rules for Sacramento and other communities where it takes extra water to keep trees from dying.
Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California must release the names and addresses of recipients of millions of dollars in turf replacement rebates.
The proposed changes to California’s emergency drought regulation reward water districts for investing in new local supplies and allow for adjustments to savings goals based on a district’s climate and population growth.
This winter, dozens of water agencies across the state are counting on a drenching El Niño to produce surplus water to stash in the earth and make up for what’s been pumped out at unprecedented rates due to the recent absence of surface supplies.
The dramatic decline in water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell is perhaps the most visible sign of the historic drought that has gripped the Colorado River Basin for the past 16 years. In 2000, the reservoirs stood at nearly 100 percent capacity; today, Lake Powell is at 49 percent capacity while Lake Mead has dropped to 38 percent. Before the late season runoff of Miracle May, it looked as if Mead might drop low enough to trigger the first-ever Lower Basin shortage determination in 2016.
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.
Los Angeles County Superior Court judge could rule as soon as Friday on whether the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California must release information about the recipients of millions of dollars in turf replacement rebates.
California’s current drought may well be remembered as the crisis that introduced people to recycled water. All over the state, water agencies in 2015 began offering customers free recycled water at designated “fill stations.”
The State Water Resources Control Board will soon vote on changes that it says relax – at least somewhat – the 25-percent statewide conservation mandate. But many urban water suppliers say the regulations don’t provide enough relief.
It turns out “emergency drought relief” can take up to two years to distribute. On Wednesday, California regulators awarded the final pieces of the $680 million drought aid package Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers approved in March 2014.
A series of storms passing over Northern California are expected to drench residents in rain and dump up to 2 feet of snow on the northern Sierra Nevada, a precious water resource the state relies on in the spring, the National Weather Service said.
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.