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.
Up against a federal deadline to approve a Colorado River
drought plan — a “generational change” in Arizona water
management — four key legislators say they’re optimistic
they’ll meet it. Led by House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Mesa
Republican, they see the Legislature as ready — finally — to
officially endorse the plan. That’s even though competing water
interest groups still have highly visible disagreements about
The Colorado River may not look like it, but it’s one of the
world’s largest banks. The river is not only the source of
much of the American West’s economic productivity – San Diego,
Phoenix and Denver would hardly exist without it – but its
water is now the central commodity in a complex accounting
system used by major farmers and entire states. … This
month, the nation’s largest water agency, the Metropolitan
Water District, began what amounts to a run on the bank.
Every winter, forest managers in places like California take a
step back, analyze their budgets and plan on how to deal with
the next fire season. But the government shutdown has shuttered
a lot of those efforts, because federal lands like the U.S.
Forest Service— which has been furloughed since December 22 —
plays a huge role. For example, crews in Redwood National Park
are “just sitting on their hands,” according to University of
California fire advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidson in Humboldt
County, because they can’t work on federal land during the
With a federal deadline to sign a Colorado River drought deal
three weeks away, Arizona water managers are still
grappling with several unresolved issues that could get in the
way of finishing an agreement. The outstanding issues,
some of which are proving contentious, range from developers’
concerns about securing future water supplies to lining up
funding for Pinal County farmers to drill wells and begin to
pump more groundwater.
The city of San Francisco is not standing down in California’s
latest water war, joining a lawsuit against the state on
Thursday to stop it from directing more of the Sierra Nevada’s
cool, crisp flows to fish instead of people.
Registration is now open for the Santa Ana River Watershed
Conference set for March 29 in Fullerton. The daylong
event will be held at Cal State Fullerton. Join us to discuss
the importance of the Santa Ana River Watershed and how,
through powerful partnerships, resilient solutions can be found
to improve the quality and reliability of
the region’s water supply.
Last week, the relicensing effort reached a milestone when FERC
issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement. The
environmental document essentially looks at what changes a
licensee has proposed for a specific project, the impacts of
those changes and provides conditions they must meet if awarded
a new license.
In a 5-3 vote Wednesday that — intriguingly — fell along gender
lines, the Phoenix City Council approved an increase in water
rates, starting next month. “I thank the women to have the
leadership and courage to do the right thing. 5-3,”
Interim Mayor Thelda Williams said. … Wednesday’s
vote overturned the council’s previous rejection of
the proposed increase, on December 12, that was also 5-3.
First, the good news: The negotiators of Arizona’s Drought
Contingency Plan have crafted the most detailed, concrete
proposal to date laying out how Arizona will deal
with expected cutbacks to its supply of Colorado
River. Now, the bad: The partial shutdown of the federal
government is squeezing these negotiators.
Mount, a senior fellow at the Water Policy Center at the Public
Policy Institute of California, spoke recently about
managing freshwater systems with ecosystem water budgets. “I
will argue that drought, because of the way we have modified
this system, is the major bottleneck ecologically,” he said.
“Step 1 has to be thinking about drought: how to mitigate
drought and how to deal with drought – that is plan for,
respond to, and recover from drought. We don’t do that at
all, even though we just had this big drought.”
A lawsuit seeking a new environmental report for the
controversial Poseidon desalination plant proposed for
Huntington Beach was rejected by a Sacramento Superior Court
judge on Tuesday. Judge Richard Sueyoshi found the
supplemental report met legal requirements while noting the
2010 study had never been legally challenged.
Trump’s latest tweet drew a sharp reaction from state
Republican legislators representing the area around the town of
Paradise, which was mostly incinerated in a wildfire that
killed 86 people and destroyed nearly 14,000 homes. State
Senator Jim Nielsen and Assemblyman James Gallagher said
Trump’s threat to withhold FEMA funds ”is wholly
unacceptable. He made a commitment to the people who have
lost everything in these fires, and we expect the federal
government to follow through with his promise.”
The U.S. Interior Department is facing three lawsuits filed by
three environmental groups who allege its plans for the
200,000-acre Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex
along the Oregon-California border violates several federal
laws. A fourth complaint from six farms and agricultural
groups alleges the agency has unlawfully exceeded its authority
by restricting leases of refuge land for agricultural purposes.
The Groundwater Resources Association, in collaboration with the
California Department of Water Resources and the Center for
Western Weather and Water Extremes, is hosting a unique
event bringing together experts in weather, weather forecasting,
reservoir operations and Flood-MAR to discuss how to use
these tools to more effectively manage California’s water
The Water Education Foundation is a cooperating organization.
The Dana on Mission Bay
1710 W. Mission Bay Dr.
San Diego, CA 92109
As his term as governor drew to a close, Jerry Brown brokered a
historic agreement among farms and cities to surrender billions
of gallons of water to help ailing fish. He also made two big
water deals with the Trump administration. It added up to
a dizzying display of deal-making. Yet as Gavin Newsom takes
over as governor, the state of water in California seems as
unsettled as ever.
Cloud seeding has existed for decades, and has significant
traction in other western states such as California, Idaho
and Wyoming. Colorado has only recently joined the cloud
seeding game as the state’s snowpack has declined and the
Colorado River runs dry.
Gov. Doug Ducey used his second inaugural speech Monday to
exhort lawmakers and others with a claim to Colorado River
water to approve a drought contingency plan before a solution
is imposed by the Bureau of Reclamation. “It’s simple: Arizona
and our neighboring states draw more water from the Colorado
River than Mother Nature puts back,” the governor told his
audience. “And with critical shortfall imminent, we cannot kick
the can any further.”
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is seeking to auction off its
Potter Valley Project hydropower plant, which contains two
reservoirs and dams, to a new operator. PG&E cited
increasing operation costs, a competitive energy market and
lower energy generation needs as reasons for its
decision. Questions remain as to what extent Marin County
water supplies will be affected by a potential change in
ownership and operation of the 110-year-old hydropower
plant more than 100 miles to the north.
The paper, published in the Journal of Environmental
Management, suggests that eliminating outdoor landscaping and
lawns could reduce water waste by 30 percent.
It recommends importing water only when Los Angeles is not
in a drought, to build a surplus of water for dry years. The
paper also argues that groundwater basins that catch stormwater
could be used to recycle water. However, making these
improvements would require the cooperation of more than 100
Forecasters are not being paid. Weather models are not being
maintained, launched or improved. The main impact has been on
the current Global Forecast System, the premier weather model
in the U.S., which is running poorly, and there’s no one on
duty to fix it.
At Monday’s meeting of the Metropolitan Water District’s
Planning & Stewardship Committee, officials said that with no
Drought Contingency Plan in place (Arizona being the hold out),
they are beginning to draw down their storage in Lake
Mead. “If there is no Drought Contingency Plan, we don’t
want to leave potentially half a million acre-feet or more
locked up in Lake Mead if we go into shortage,”
said General Manager Jeff Kightlinger.
Jon Rosenfield: Last month the State Water Resources Control
Board finally required increased flows from three San Joaquin
River tributaries, as the first step in a process to update
water quality standards for the San Francisco Bay
estuary. The board opted for weaker environmental
protections in order to reduce impacts to agribusiness and San
Francisco, ignoring the potential for changed agricultural
practices and investment in sustainable water use to ease or
eliminate the impact of reduced water diversions.
In December, Frank Gehrke retired as chief snow surveyor for
the California Department of Water Resources. He spent much of
his 31 years with the department on skis and snowshoes, in
remote corners of the Sierra Nevada, measuring the “frozen
reservoir” that ultimately provides about a third of
California’s water supply.
Southern Nevadans will see few noticeable consequences from a
soon-to-be-finalized drought contingency plan for states
that get most of their water supply from the Colorado River,
according to a Southern Nevada water resources expert.
A team of researchers concludes that the ongoing drought across
the western U.S. rivals most past “megadroughts” dating as far
back as 800 A.D. — and that the region is currently in a
megadrought. Using tree ring data as a proxy for drought
conditions, the researchers say the current drought ranks
fourth worst among comparable 19-year periods of megadroughts
of the past 1,200 years.
The growing leadership of women in water. The Colorado River’s persistent drought and efforts to sign off on a plan to avert worse shortfalls of water from the river. And in California’s Central Valley, promising solutions to vexing water resource challenges.
These were among the topics that Western Water news explored in 2018.
We’re already planning a full slate of stories for 2019. You can sign up here to be alerted when new stories are published. In the meantime, take a look at what we dove into in 2018:
Each year, several thousand weather forecasters, researchers
and climate scientists from all over the world gather for the
American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting to exchange
ideas to improve weather prediction and understanding of
climate change. This year, due to the partial federal
government shutdown, hundreds of scientists will not attend the
conference set to begin this weekend in Phoenix.
New California Gov. Gavin Newsom has previously said he
favors a scaled-down Delta tunnel project. Whether he
reappoints state water board chair Felicia Marcus will signal
whether he wants the board to stand firm or back down on the
flow requirements. His picks for top posts in the Natural
Resources Agency will determine whether his administration goes
along with a potential weakening of delta protections by the
Trump administration — or fights it.
California’s top snow surveyors, in the Sierra Nevada on
Thursday with measuring poles and electronic sensor data,
concluded that the state’s frozen water supply is just
adequate, at best. The water content of the snowpack is 67
percent of the long-term average for this time of year,
according to the first official measurements of 2019
taken by the California Department of Water Resources.
In the latter half of 2018, both the federal and state
governments released new climate change assessments that
outline the projected course of climate change and its
potential effects on water resources. At the December meeting
of the California Water Commission, staff from the Department
of Water Resources and the Delta Stewardship Council were on
hand to present an overview of the newly released assessments.
It has been called speculative, foolhardy and overly expensive,
but Aaron Million’s plan to pump water from the Utah-Wyoming
border to Colorado’s Front Range just won’t dry
up. Now seeking water rights from the Green
River in Utah for a new version of his plan, Million thinks he
has fashioned a winning proposal to feed Colorado’s thirsty,
Colorado River water managers were supposed to finish drought
contingency plans by the end of the year. As it looks now,
they’ll miss that deadline. If the states fail to do their job,
the federal government could step in. Luke Runyon, a
reporter with KUNC who covers on the Colorado River Basin
recaps what’s been happening and why it’s so important.
Due to rising average temperatures, snowpacks in the Great
Basin appear to be transitioning from seasonal, with a
predictable amount and melt rate, to “ephemeral,” or
short-lived, which are less predictable and only last up to 60
days. “We might not get as much water into the ground, throwing
off the timing of water for plant root systems, reducing our
supply and use, and even affecting businesses such as tourism,”
says lead researcher Rose Petersky.
Hemp production legalized under the 2018 farm bill could go
beyond offering a new crop option for farmers facing drought in
Western states—it also could save them water. Arizona,
California, and New Mexico are among the states allowing hemp
production in 2019 after the federal government removed the
marijuana relative from its list of controlled substances.
Supporters say the change comes at the right time as the region
grapples with how agriculture fits into a drier future.
The report issued by California’s State Water Resources Control
Board marks a key step in a decade-long effort to remove four
hydroelectric dams and restore the health of the Klamath River.
The dam-removal project is part of a broader effort by
California, Oregon, federal agencies, Klamath Basin tribes,
water users and conservation organizations to revitalize the
basin, advance recovery of fisheries, uphold trust
responsibilities to the tribes, and sustain the region’s
farming and ranching heritage.
At the Groundwater Resources Association’s Western Groundwater
Congress, a panel of experts discussed emerging issues as
agencies work to develop their plans to comply with the
Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which became law in
California in 2014.
Prompted by the collapse of fish populations, the State Water
Resources Control Board is trying to prevent humans from
totally drying up these rivers each year. The regulators’
lodestar for how much water the rivers need is the amount of
water a Chinook salmon needs to migrate.
Montgomery is known for fostering collaborative relationships
among stakeholders and as a leader in protecting and restoring
water quality within California and throughout the Southwest
and the Pacific Islands. He is currently serving as the
Assistant Director of the Water Division in the US
Environmental Protection Agency (Region 9).
There’s every reason to expect that 2019 will be far better,
largely because of Measure W, which was passed by voters in
November. The initiative imposes a Los Angeles County parcel
tax that will generate $300 million per year to reduce
pollution from runoff and capture storm water to add to the
At the end of the last century, the Sierra Nevada captured an
average of 8.76 million acre-feet of water critical to the
nation’s largest food-producing region. By mid-century, a new
study projects, the average will fall to 4 million acre-feet;
and by century’s end, 1.81 million acre-feet.
The tenth annual performance report evaluates what the
state water boards do and how the environment is responding to
its actions. The report presents numerous performance
measures for specific outputs and outcomes.
When it comes to California’s water supply, 2018 will end with
a whimper. California’s two largest reservoirs are not even
half full. The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which functions as an
additional set of reservoirs, is below normal for this time of
year. And there’s not a major storm in sight.
As stakeholders labor to nail down
effective and durable drought contingency plans for the Colorado
River Basin, they face a stark reality: Scientific research is
increasingly pointing to even drier, more challenging times
The latest sobering assessment landed the day after Thanksgiving,
when U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Fourth National Climate
Assessment concluded that Earth’s climate is changing rapidly
compared to the pace of natural variations that have occurred
throughout its history, with greenhouse gas emissions largely the
As stakeholders labor to nail down effective and durable
drought contingency plans for the Colorado River Basin, they
face a stark reality: Scientific research is increasingly
pointing to even drier, more challenging times ahead. That
reality could pose daunting challenges for Colorado River water
managers and others who are already confronting the likelihood
of near-term shortages, and looking ahead to longer-term
concerns about the river’s sustainability. By Gary Pitzer in
As persistent drought and the warming climate are making
wildfire a more frequent and severe threat, the vast extent of
vulnerable communities shows the need for action by state and
local governments, and the communities themselves, to reduce
Water managers from seven Southwestern states that depend on
the Colorado River are close but haven’t finalized an
unprecedented drought contingency plan they may have to enact
in 2020. The federal government’s top water official, Brenda
Burman, is expected to urge action Thursday at a Colorado River
Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas where a pact
was supposed to be signed.
Experts with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center and the National
Weather Service on Thursday said the epicenter of the nation’s
drought has been center for months now over the region where
Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet.
More wet and windy weather is expected to hit Northern
California this week, helping fill the state’s half-empty
reservoirs and lift rainfall totals closer to average for the
young but dry winter season.
Bigger, more dangerous wildfires. Coastlines threatened by
rising sea levels. Less water. More heat-related illnesses.
These are some of the ways climate change is rapidly changing
California and the West, with conditions only expected to
worsen, according to a landmark federal report, the first of
its kind under the Trump administration.
The Latest on drought contingency plans being considered by
states that rely on the Colorado River … Las Vegas-area water
managers have become the first to advance a multi-state drought
contingency plan that officials hope will ease the effects of
Colorado River water shortages.
In the universe of California water, Tim Quinn is a professor emeritus. Quinn has seen — and been a key player in — a lot of major California water issues since he began his water career 40 years ago as a young economist with the Rand Corporation, then later as deputy general manager with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and finally as executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies. In December, the 66-year-old will retire from ACWA.
The California Supreme Court will weigh in on whether
environmental review is required for each new water well
project. The issue of groundwater extraction heightened during
California’s prolonged drought.
President Trump took to Twitter to blame bad forest management.
Gov. Jerry Brown pointed to climate change. Their arguments
about the cause of disastrous wildfires roaring across the
state have turned a California catastrophe into the latest
political cudgel in the ongoing slugfest between Washington and
This is a wet place by California standards. It averages about
55 inches of rain a year, thanks to its prime location in the
verdant foothills of the Sierra Nevada, which wrings rain out
of Pacific storms. But when the Camp fire sparked last
Thursday, Paradise was parched. … Across California, the lack
of autumn rain is having dire consequences.
This tour ventured through California’s Central
Valley, known as the nation’s breadbasket thanks to an
imported supply of surface water and local groundwater. Covering
about 20,000 square miles through the heart of the state,
the valley provides 25 percent of the nation’s food, including 40
percent of all fruits, nuts and vegetables consumed throughout
Just because El Niño may be lurking
off in the tropical Pacific, does that really offer much of a
clue about what kind of rainy season California can expect in
Water Year 2019?
Will a river of storms pound the state, swelling streams and
packing the mountains with deep layers of heavy snow much like
the exceptionally wet 2017 Water Year (Oct. 1, 2016 to Sept. 30,
2017)? Or will this winter sputter along like last winter,
leaving California with a second dry year and the possibility of
another potential drought? What can reliably be said about the
prospects for Water Year 2019?
At Water Year
2019: Feast or Famine?, a one-day event on Dec. 5 in Irvine,
water managers and anyone else interested in this topic will
learn about what is and isn’t known about forecasting
California’s winter precipitation weeks to months ahead, the
skill of present forecasts and ongoing research to develop
With a deadline approaching for Arizona to finish a deal that
would divvy up cutbacks in Colorado River water deliveries, the
state’s cities, tribes and agricultural irrigation districts
are entering what should be the final stretch of negotiations.
President Trump claimed Tuesday that California mismanages its
water resources, dismissing the possibility of drought and
accusing the state of sending water out to sea that could be
used to help farmers in the Central Valley. Trump also
threatened to withhold federal disaster dollars from
California, which he incorrectly claimed is impeding
firefighters’ access to water during wildfires.
The likelihood this winter of an El Niño — the weather pattern
marked by warm Pacific Ocean waters that can affect
California’s rainfall — is increasing. But so far,
this El Niño looks more like a lamb than a lion. The
probability of El Niño conditions being present by
December is now 70 to 75 percent, up from 50 percent five
months ago, according to a new report Thursday from the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
After years of stop-and-go talks, California and two other
states that take water from the lower Colorado River are
nearing an agreement on how to share delivery cuts if a formal
shortage is declared on the drought-plagued waterway. Under the
proposed pact, California — the river’s largest user — would
reduce diversions earlier in a shortage than it would if the
lower-basin states strictly adhered to a water-rights pecking
Seven Southwestern U.S. states that depend on the overtaxed
Colorado River have reached landmark agreements on how to
manage the waterway amid an unprecedented drought, including a
commitment by California to bear part of the burden before it
is legally required to do so, officials said Tuesday. The
agreements are tentative and must be approved by multiple
states and agencies as well as the U.S. government.
One of the report’s contributors said predicted temperature
increases will be greater in the semi-arid climate of the
American West. Diana Liverman, a professor of geography and
development at the University of Arizona, said this would lead
to even more intense heat waves, droughts, fires and downpours
than California is already experiencing.
“Dry, hot and on fire” is how the
California Department of Water Resources described Water Year
2018 in a recent report.
Water Year 2018 – from Oct. 1, 2017 to Sept. 30, 2018 -
marked a return to dry conditions statewide following an
exceptionally wet 2017, according to DWR’s Water
Year 2018 report. But 2017 was exceptional as all but two of
the water years in the past decade experienced drought.
Was Water Year 2018 simply a single dry year or does it
signal the beginning of another drought? And what can
reliably be said about the prospects for Water Year 2019? Does El
Niño really mean anything for California or is it all washed up
as a predictor?
Attendees found out at this one-day event Dec. 5 in
Irvine, Water Year 2019: Feast or
Auditorium - Huntington Room
100 Academy Way
Irvine, California 92617
Snowmelt is shrinking and runoff is coming earlier on the Upper
Colorado River, the source of 90 percent of water for 40
million people in the West. This is leading to vegetation
changes, water quality issues and other concerns. But it may be
possible to operate reservoirs differently to ease some of
these effects. In September’s episode of Deeply Talks, we spoke
with two experts about the consequences and opportunities of
these changes on the river.
People in California and the
Southwest are getting stingier with water, a story that’s told by
For years, water use has generally been described in terms of
acre-foot per a certain number of households, keying off the
image of an acre-foot as a football field a foot deep in water.
The long-time rule of thumb: One acre-foot of water would supply
the indoor and outdoor needs of two typical urban households for
After a short respite from drought conditions thanks to a
historically wet 2017 in the San Joaquin Valley, the conclusion
of the 2018 water year shows that California may not be out of
the woods just yet when it comes to lacking water.
Whether fire or earthquake, mudslide or drought, natural
disaster is an inextricable part of the California experience.
And just as it upended Francis’s life, disaster threatens to
snarl the next governor’s plans. Emergency response is rarely
discussed as a campaign issue, but once in office, a governor’s
on-the-ground handling of unexpected catastrophe and its
immediate aftermath can define his legacy, for good or bad.
The Colorado River Basin is more
than likely headed to unprecedented shortage in 2020 that could
force supply cuts to some states, but work is “furiously”
underway to reduce the risk and avert a crisis, Bureau of
Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told an audience of
California water industry people.
During a keynote address at the Water Education Foundation’s
Sept. 20 Water Summit in Sacramento, Burman said there is
opportunity for Colorado River Basin states to control their
destiny, but acknowledged that in water, there are no guarantees
that agreement can be reached.
As California begins handing out $2.5 billion in state funds
for several new water management projects, a shift is taking
place in the ways officials are considering storing water. To
contend with the likelihood of future extreme droughts, some of
these new strategies rely on underground aquifers — an approach
far removed from traditional dam-based water storage.
[Mayor Jackie] Biskupski says Salt Lake feels the effects of
climate change with low snowpack, drought conditions and
wildfire smoke. She plans to join other mayors to sign the
“Deadline 2020” pledge to reduce global emissions.
Heat waves will grow more severe and persistent, shortening the
lives of thousands of Californians. Wildfires will burn more of
the state’s forests. The ocean will rise higher and faster,
exposing California to billions in damage along the
coast. These are some of the threats California will face
from climate change in coming decades, according to a new
statewide assessment released Monday by the California Natural
As temperatures rise in the U.S. West, so do the flames. The
years with the most acres burned by wildfires have some of the
hottest temperatures, an Associated Press analysis of fire and
weather data found.
Two top officials of the Trump administration, winding up a
tour of fire-ravaged Redding, insisted Monday that removing
dead trees and thinning forests, not addressing climate change,
are the keys to dealing with California wildfires.
Amy Haas recently became the first non-engineer and the first woman to serve as executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission in its 70-year history, putting her smack in the center of a host of daunting challenges facing the Upper Colorado River Basin.
Yet those challenges will be quite familiar to Haas, an attorney who for the past year has served as deputy director and general counsel of the commission. (She replaced longtime Executive Director Don Ostler). She has a long history of working within interstate Colorado River governance, including representing New Mexico as its Upper Colorado River commissioner and playing a central role in the negotiation of the recently signed U.S.-Mexico agreement known as Minute 323.
Much of the heat that’s gripped California and hastened the
spread of deadly wildfires recently is due to a strange but
familiar shift in the jet stream — one that’s haunted the West
with threatening fire conditions in the past and could cause
more hot, dry spells in the future, especially with a changing
As fire crews struggled to gain containment on more than a
dozen wildfires raging across California on Wednesday, Gov.
Jerry Brown told reporters that large, destructive fires would
probably continue and cost the state billions of dollars over
the next decade.
As flames from the Ferguson Fire burn closer to some of the
world’s oldest and largest trees, firefighters are racing to
protect ancient sequoias on Yosemite National Park’s western
edge. About 25 Yosemite firefighters have surrounded Merced
Grove — whose immense trees tower more than 200 feet tall and
date back 1,000 years — with fire hoses.
If the Ferguson Fire currently burning in Mariposa County
spreads to Yosemite National Park, a tiny bug resembling a
mouse dropping would share some of the blame. An epidemic of
bark beetles is devastating billions of pine trees across the
West in what has been described as the largest forest insect
outbreak ever recorded.
On either side of the Merced River, hillsides are filled with
trees that have been killed by five years of drought and a bark
beetle infestation, according to state maps. The ground is
carpeted with bone-dry pine needles, which are highly
Eighty percent of Colorado is experiencing some form of drought
or dryness. … It’s also prompting a closer look by historians
into how communities have survived and triumphed over water
scarcity — instead of the old Western yarn that “water is for
fighting.” … Historians at the University of Colorado
Boulder’s Center of the American West want to know
why some communities rally around water resources, and others
An erratic wildfire charging through extremely dry land in the
heart of Colorado ski country destroyed three homes and forced
people to flee, authorities said Thursday. … Fires
exploded in Northern California, Utah and other areas, where a
prolonged and severe drought has desiccated forests.
Sixteen days into summer, with wildfires raging over the
bone-dry landscape and more scorching hot days ahead, it might
feel as if California is on the verge of another drought. The
official word from weather authorities shows much of the state
trending in that direction.
Nowhere is the domino effect in
Western water policy played out more than on the Colorado River,
and specifically when it involves the Lower Basin states of
California, Nevada and Arizona. We are seeing that play out now
as the three states strive to forge a Drought Contingency Plan.
Yet that plan can’t be finalized until Arizona finds a unifying
voice between its major water players, an effort you can read
more about in the latest in-depth article of Western Water.
Even then, there are some issues to resolve just within
It’s high-stakes time in Arizona. The state that depends on the
Colorado River to help supply its cities and farms — and is
first in line to absorb a shortage — is seeking a unified plan
for water supply management to join its Lower Basin neighbors,
California and Nevada, in a coordinated plan to preserve water
levels in Lake Mead before
they run too low.
If the lake’s elevation falls below 1,075 feet above sea level,
the secretary of the Interior would declare a shortage and
Arizona’s deliveries of Colorado River water would be reduced by
320,000 acre-feet. Arizona says that’s enough to serve about 1
million households in one year.
The frantic phone calls to the Community Water Center began in
the summer of 2014. In the 7,000-strong unincorporated
community of East Porterville, nestled against California’s
Sierra Nevada mountains, homeowners’ wells were failing amid a
The U.S. record $18 billion wildfire season of 2017 was
triggered by the coincidence of three primary factors that came
into play or persisted longer than anticipated, according to a
new study led by a researcher at the University of
Colorado. Those “switches,” according to study leader
Jennifer Balch, were ignition, aridity and fuel.
The Colorado River has for years been locked in a pattern
of chronic overuse, with much more water doled out to cities
and farmlands than what’s flowing into its reservoirs. The
river basin, which stretches from Wyoming to Mexico, has been
drying out during what scientists say is one of the driest
19-year periods in the past 1,200 years.
Climatologists and other experts on Wednesday provided an
update on the situation in the Four Corners region — where
Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet. They say the area
is among the hardest hit and there’s little relief expected,
and even robust summer rains might not be enough to replenish
the soil and ease the fire danger.
Rivers are drying up, popular mountain recreation spots are
closing and water restrictions are in full swing as a
persistent drought intensifies its grip on pockets of the
American Southwest. … With the region’s water resources
strained, a top federal official has resumed pressure on states
in the Southwest to wrap up long-delayed emergency plans for
potential shortages on the Colorado River, which serves 40
million people in the U.S. and Mexico.
After two heavy winters following five years of drought, grass
and brush are thick in the Tahoe Basin, putting local
firefighting agencies on high alert for the fire season ahead.
“We will see more intense fire because there is more fuel.
That’s the message we’re getting from our fire behavior
analysts and fuel specialists,” said Brice Bennett, spokesman
for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s
Amador/El Dorado Unit.
A new study from NASA reinforces the idea that droughts are
getting worse and could become more frequent in the Western
U.S. The culprit is human-caused climate change. Droughts
aren’t just about precipitation, said NASA scientist and the
study’s co-author Benjamin Cook.
The last time water was this scarce in the Klamath Basin, a
rugged agricultural area straddling the California-Oregon
border, farmers clashed with U.S. marshals and opened locked
canal gates with blowtorches so they could irrigate. … Now
the stage is set for another round of conflict on the Klamath
River, the result of a dry winter and a court ruling by a
federal judge in San Francisco.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the [Colorado]
river, released projections showing a 52 percent chance the
river’s biggest reservoir, Lake Mead in Arizona and Nevada,
will fall low enough in 2020 to trigger cutbacks under
agreements governing the system. … The shortage
projection prompted Bureau of Reclamation Chief Brenda Burman
to prod the seven river states to finish long-delayed
contingency plans for worsening conditions.
There may not have been a “March Miracle” when it came to the
snowpack in the state, but there was sure one when it came to
water conservation. The State Water Resources Control reported
that in March urban Californians used 24.8 percent less water
than in March 2013, the benchmark year considered to be before
Usually open from at least May to September, this year’s
California commercial salmon season is very
limited because the current batch of adult salmon were
born during the drought in 2015, which made their Sacramento
River spawning grounds too warm and killed off many juvenile
Anticipating years of drought, officials built the Yuma
Desalting Plant in 1992 to treat agricultural runoff and
conserve water in Lake Mead. Over the past 26 years, however,
the plant has operated just three times while costing millions
of dollars to maintain.
Arizona’s largest water provider tried Tuesday to defuse a
multi-state dispute over the Colorado River, saying it
regretted the belligerent-sounding words it used to describe
its management strategy for the critical, over-used waterway.
… It also pledged to cooperate on drawing up a
multi-state plan for possible shortages in the river, which
appear more and more likely because of the drought and climate
Now that the water level in Lake Mead has dropped — some 140
feet since the current drought began — St. Thomas is back on
dry land, a ghost town that is gaining popularity among hikers
and history buffs. … The story of St. Thomas is a cautionary
tale of the scarcity of water in the Southwest and the vagaries
of state boundaries during America’s westward expansion.
Salmon season is usually open from May 1 to September or
October along most of the coast. But this year, lingering
drought-related effects will again limit fishing dramatically
in California and Oregon.
In a few months, scientists, farmers and water managers will
get answers to such questions as: Will a drought occur and if
so, where? Which plants die first? Which species are adept at
absorbing carbon dioxide, a gas that is overheating our planet?
Who will they ask? The space botanist.
A top official from the Southern Nevada Water Authority is
calling on states that rely on the Colorado River to resolve
their differences before a growing dispute derails decades of
cooperation on the river. … The fight comes as Nevada,
Arizona and California continue work on a drought
contingency plan aimed at keeping Lake Mead out of
shortage by voluntarily leaving more water in the reservoir.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) approved reduced
recreational and commercial ocean salmon seasons for the West
Coast on April 10. The reduction in fishing days this season
amounts to cuts of about a third for the ocean sport fishery
and over half of the commercial fishery, compared to a normal
We explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop
of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad
sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and
The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in
the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin
states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this
water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial
needs was the focus of this tour.
Hampton Inn Tropicana
4975 Dean Martin Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89118
This winter’s wild swings in weather
– an early lack of rain, then late-season Sierra snowstorms,
followed by a torrent of subtropical moisture – shows the need in
California for long-range tools to better manage water supply.
At a Paleo
Drought Workshop in San Pedro on April 19, six experts will
discuss research on centuries-long precipitation and streamflow
records, new forecasting tools and planning strategies to help
reduce Southern California’s vulnerability to drought.
April is often a time of abundance in the mountains of the
American West, when snowpack is at or near its peak, and
forecasters work to determine how much runoff will course
through our rivers and fill reservoirs later in
the season. This year, across much of the West,
particularly the Southwest, there’s little in the way of
abundance. At Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir in the
West, runoff is predicted to be only 43 percent of average.
Learn what new tree-ring studies in
Southern California watersheds reveal about drought, hear about
efforts to improve subseasonal to seasonal weather forecasting
and get the latest on climate change impacts that will alter
drought vulnerability in the future.
At our Paleo
Drought Workshop on April 19th in San Pedro, you will hear
from experts at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, University of
Arizona and California Department of Water Resources.
Since Gov. Jerry Brown called off California’s drought
emergency a year ago, we Californians seem to have gotten a
little lazy when it comes to water conservation. We’ve started
watering our lawns more often.
Dramatic swings in weather patterns
over the past few years in California are stark reminders of
climate variability and regional vulnerability. Alternating years
of drought and intense rain events make long-term planning for
storing and distributing water a challenging task.
Current weather forecasting capabilities provide details for
short time horizons. Attend the Paleo Drought
Workshop in San Pedro on April 19 to learn more about
research efforts to improve sub-seasonal to seasonal
precipitation forecasting, known as S2S, and how those models
could provide more useful weather scenarios for resource
California’s drought-to-deluge cycle can mask the dangers
Mother Nature can have in store. During one of the driest
March-through-February time periods ever recorded in Southern
California, an intense storm dumped so much rain on Montecito
in January that mudflows slammed into entire rows of homes.
[Idaho Rep. Mike] Simpson, who chairs an Appropriations
subcommittee on energy and water development, called the
wildfire fund one of the most significant pieces of legislation
he has worked on in Congress. The concept is simple, he said:
Treat catastrophic wildfires like other natural disasters.
We ventured through California’s Central Valley, known as
the nation’s breadbasket thanks to an imported supply of surface
water and local groundwater. Covering about 20,000 square
miles through the heart of the state, the valley provides 25
percent of the nation’s food, including 40 percent of all fruits,
nuts and vegetables consumed throughout the country.
Arizona will be hardest hit if 17 years of drought keep drying
up a reservoir serving much of the Southwest, but the state’s
lawmakers and governor don’t agree on how to keep water in the
lake or who should be in charge. Lake Mead, a man-made
reservoir fed by the Colorado River, is an essential water
supply for several western states that will take a hit if lake
levels dip much lower.
A pair of storms moving across the Bay Area this week and into
the Sierra Nevada could dump eight feet of snow at higher
elevations, said Mike Kochasic, meteorologist at the
National Weather Service in Sacramento. And although rain and
snow are expected to remain far below average for the season
after a bone-dry January and February, it’s still a relief to
everyone from skiers to the state’s drought monitors.
Just how bad was California’s last drought? For most of
Southern California, it was either the worst or second worst
since the century Columbus landed in the New World, the Ottoman
empire was started and Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.
Despite the recent storm that pummeled the Sierra with snow and
scattered rain in the valleys and along the coast, California
remains unseasonably dry with 47 percent of the state
experiencing at least “moderate drought” conditions, according
to the federal government’s Drought Monitor.
After a historically wet season last year, relatively little
precipitation has fallen this year in California during two of
the three historically wettest months. Officials are urging
stricter water conservation and caution drier months ahead.
After last week’s rains, the Sierra snowpack — a critical
factor in water availability — climbed to just 39 percent of
Anglers hoping to catch Chinook salmon this year along the San
Francisco Bay and in the Central Valley’s rivers are likely to
see curtailed fishing seasons, due to poor fish numbers linked
to California’s historic five-year drought.
This April 19th workshop in San Pedro was
focused on helping Southern California water agencies and others
to gain information for improving drought preparedness and
updating Urban Water Management Plans. The workshop was
sponsored by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR)
and the Water Education Foundation.
DoubleTree by Hilton (Madeo Ballroom)
2800 Via Cabrillo-Marina
San Pedro, CA 90731
Machines that prod clouds to make snow may sound like something
out of an old science fiction movie. But worsening water
scarcity, combined with new evidence that “cloud seeding” can
work, is spurring states, counties, water districts and power
companies across the thirsty West to use the strategy.
After one year of torrential respite, drought may have returned
to California, and with it, a renewal of the state’s perpetual
conflict over water management. State and federal water systems
have told farmers not to expect more than a fifth of their
paper allocations, the state Water Resources Control Board is
weighing a new regime of mandatory conservation, and supporters
of more reservoirs are complaining about the glacial pace of
spending $2.7 billion set aside in a water bond for more
Irrigation season was delayed in 2017 as storm after storm kept
farm and garden soil moist. Fast-forward to 2018, which has
started out very dry and brought calls to fill the canals
early. So are we back to serious drought in the Northern San
Joaquin Valley, which endured one from 2012 to 2016?
Overall water use is climbing in Southern California as that
part of the state plunges back into drought, driving state and
regional water managers as they consider permanently
reinstating some watering bans and conservation programs.
Government at all levels moves at a glacial pace, especially
when it’s trying to deal with the complex and contentious issue
of water. Four years ago in the midst of a scary, five-year
drought — one of the state’s driest periods in recorded history
— voters eagerly approved a $7.5-billion water bond proposal,
Proposition 1. The vote was a lopsided 67% to 33%.
Every day, people flock to Daniel
Swain’s social media platforms to find out the latest news and
insight about California’s notoriously unpredictable weather.
Swain, a climate scientist at the Institute of the
Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, famously coined the
term “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” in December 2013 to describe
the large, formidable high-pressure mass that was parked over the
West Coast during winter and diverted storms away from
California, intensifying the drought.
Swain’s research focuses on atmospheric processes that cause
droughts and floods, along with the changing character of extreme
weather events in a warming world. A lifelong Californian and
alumnus of University of California, Davis, and Stanford
University, Swain is best known for the widely read Weather West blog, which provides
unique perspectives on weather and climate in California and the
western United States. In a recent interview with Western
Water, he talked about the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, its
potential long-term impact on California weather, and what may
lie ahead for the state’s water supply.
The lack of rain and snow in California has people wondering if
we’re headed into another drought. … To find out what the
lack of precipitation means for the state, we asked our social
media audience for questions. And we reached out to experts
across the state to answer them.
A bipartisan group of members of Congress from California and
other Western states had been pushing a policy fix that would
create a new funding stream to fight fires, leaving more money
for the U.S. Park Service to manage forests and prevent fires.
Under current law, firefighting is not funded out of the same
natural disaster account used to respond to hurricanes or
A partnership of state and local agencies working to help
homeowners affected by California’s multi-year drought finished
connecting 755 homes to a safe, reliable, permanent water
supply. All households participating in the East Porterville
Water Supply Project have now been connected to the City of
Porterville’s municipal water system.
Hoping for a March Miracle to bail out California’s dry winter?
It’s not likely. A review of more than 100 years of rainfall
records of major cities in California — including San Jose, Los
Angeles, San Diego, Santa Rosa, Redding and Fresno — shows that
none have ever finished the rainy season with normal rainfall
totals after ending January with the amount of rain they’ve had
so far this winter.
Many Western reservoirs are full, and downpours have triggered
floods and deadly mudslides in parts of California. But all
that water isn’t enough to save the West from another drought.
Most of the region has slipped back into the drought conditions
that have plagued it on and off for the past two
decades—alarming water managers across several states.
California’s brief escape from severe drought ended Thursday
after scientists declared more than 40 percent of the state in
moderate drought and water officials confirmed
lower-than-normal snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.
The T-shirt-wearing temperatures and lack of winter rain have
combined to push nearly half of California into
all-too-familiar territory: a state of drought. … At
Phillips Station south of Lake Tahoe, where state water
officials base their monthly snow surveys, hydrologists on
Thursday found just 13 percent of average snowpack.
The drought could be crippling but the wine will be good. That
is the happy conclusion of a study published today in the
journal, Science. … That means farmers may not need to water
their vineyards as much as previously thought during a dry
Hampered by hot weather and a stubborn high-pressure ridge that
has blocked winter storms, California’s Sierra Nevada snowpack
— a key source of the state’s water supply — on Tuesday was a
paltry 30 percent of normal. The last time there was so little
Sierra snow at the end of January was in 2015, when it was 25
percent of its historic average.
A dystopian drama is unfolding in Cape Town, a popular tourist
destination of nearly 4 million on the coast of South Africa
that in April is expected to become the modern world’s first
major city to run out of water after three years of drought.
For Californians, who panted through five years of record
drought before last winter and have seen a fairly dry winter so
far this year, it raises the worrisome question: Could it
California’s recent wildfires have been nearly unprecedented in
terms of their destructiveness and size and the season in which
they burned. The Thomas Fire, for example, has grown into one
of the largest wildfires in the state’s history, devouring
thousands of acres daily as it moves from Ventura to Santa
Barbara at a time of year more prone to gray skies and cold
rain than burning forests.
Rising temperatures from climate change are having a noticeable
effect on how much water is flowing down the Colorado River. Read
the latest River Report to learn more about what’s
happening, and how water managers are responding.
With the country and the world facing increasing strain on
water resources, beer companies, including craft brewers, are
learning how to do more with less water. … Craft
brewers have recently struggled with water shortages in the
American West. During the California drought, the city of Chico
asked Sierra Nevada Brewing to reduce its water usage by more
than 30 percent.
We ventured through California’s Central Valley, known as
the nation’s breadbasket thanks to an imported supply of surface
water and local groundwater. Covering about 20,000 square
miles through the heart of the state, the valley provides 25
percent of the nation’s food, including 40 percent of all fruits,
nuts and vegetables consumed throughout the country.
Californians are beginning to wonder: Is the state heading back
into a drought? While experts say it’s still too early in the
winter rainy season to say for sure, the evidence is
accumulating, and the rain is definitely not.
California’s already towering Sierra Nevada summits rose to new
heights during the drought, albeit by just a hair. A study by
NASA scientists published Wednesday found that the granite
peaks of the 400-mile range were pushed nearly an inch upward
between 2011 and 2015, a phenomenon linked not only to known
tectonic forces but the expansion of the land as it dried out
and shed water weight.
The Sierra Nevada mountains grew nearly an inch taller during
the recent drought and shrank by half an inch when water and
snow returned to the area, according to new research from
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.
Researchers used 1,300 GPS stations throughout the mountain
range to closely observe how its elevation changed during the
States, federal and Mexican officials hailed a binational
agreement this fall that they said could lead to a radical
shift in how the region prepares for and responds to drought.
But three months later, they appear no closer to a drought
contingency plan, as negotiations have pitted states and water
districts against one another, as the U.S. tries to hammer out
details of the plan.
California’s forests are seeing a continued die-off of trees
even a year after last year’s heavy rains ended the state’s
crippling drought. The U.S. Forest Service announced Monday
that 27 million trees died over the past 13 months after five
dry years left them severely dehydrated and vulnerable to bark
This issue of Western Water discusses the challenges
facing the Colorado River Basin resulting from persistent
drought, climate change and an overallocated river, and how water
managers and others are trying to face the future.
Winter is off to a dry start across the West, raising the
specter of ongoing drought in many locations. The culprit could
be La Niña – a periodic cooling of Pacific Ocean waters near
the equator that often brings drought. And not just any La
Niña, but a “double whammy” effect, which latest research
concludes may cause even worse water shortages.
Severe wildfire seasons like the one that has devastated
California this fall may occur more frequently because of
climate change, scientists say. … The reason is an expected
impact of climate change in California: increasing year-to-year
variability in temperature and precipitation that will create
greater contrast between drought years and wet years.
Hot, dry Santa Ana winds will likely whip up the unseasonably
fierce wildfires ravaging Southern California on Thursday,
forecasters said. The gales have come at the worst time, at the
end of a long dry spell.
Even before the dramatic Southern California wildfires began
their harrowing path this week, California was already
experiencing its deadliest and most destructive fire season
ever. And it’s only getting worse. … For Californians
who welcomed one of the wettest, drought-busting winters early
in 2017, the fury of the fires is startling.
California could be hit with significantly more dangerous and
more frequent droughts in the near future as changes in weather
patterns triggered by global warming block rainfall from
reaching the state, according to new research led by scientists
at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
It could be a record year for salmon on the Mokelumne River,
but not without some extraordinary human intervention. More
than 15,200 adult salmon had returned to the fish hatchery
below Camanche Dam as of last week. … This year’s strong
return is good news in part because it shows how changes in
hatchery operations can help fish survive the aftermath of a
It appears this is an average year for the number of fall-fun
Chinook Salmon returning to spawn in the American River. The
numbers were expected to be much lower because of high water
temperatures and predators when the fish were juveniles heading
to the ocean during the drought.
For decades, no matter the weather, the message has been
preached to Californians: use water wisely, especially
outdoors, which accounts for most urban water use. Enforcement
of that message filters to the local level, where water
agencies routinely target the notorious “gutter flooder” with
gentle reminders and, if necessary, financial
penalties. The situation turned critical during the 2012
to 2016 drought, when reservoirs sank to alarmingly low
Sixty percent of California’s developed water supply
originates high in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Our water
supply is largely dependent on the health of our Sierra forests,
which are suffering from ecosystem degradation, drought,
wildfires and widespread tree mortality.
This three-day, two-night tour explored the lower Colorado River
where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand
is growing from myriad sources — increasing population,
declining habitat, drought and climate change.
The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in
the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin
states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this
water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial
needs is the focus of this tour.
Best Western McCarran Inn
4970 Paradise Road
Las Vegas, NV 89119
Last spring, the outlook for California’s 2017 Chinook salmon
fishing season was dire. Years of drought had taken a toll on
the rivers where salmon spawn, reducing them to lukewarm
trickles. As a result, the number of adult fish was seriously
depleted, reported scientists with the Pacific Fishery
Droughts and floods are both a part of life in California as
2017 has so clearly demonstrated: It took one of the wettest
winters on record to pull the state from the depths of a
five-year drought. The state has invested funds in bulking
up drought and flood protection in the past, but recent events
highlighted the necessity of rejuvenating those efforts.
In a state with such topsy-turvy weather as California, the
ability of forecasters to peer into the vast expanse of the
Pacific Ocean and accurately predict the arrival of storms is a
must to improve water supply reliability and flood management
The problem, according to Jeanine Jones, interstate resources
manager with the state Department of Water Resources, is
that “we have been managing with 20th century
technology with respect to our ability to do weather
California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird, who
lives in Santa Cruz, said the state will be in trouble if
another drought strikes as federal support remains uncertain.
Key U.S. departmental vacancies could hamper negotiations for
emergency relief, Laird said after the Democratic Women’s Club
of Santa Cruz County meeting Saturday.
California could one day be uninhabitable. Fire. Heat. Floods.
… Decamping for the 23rd session of the Conference of
the Parties to the U.N. Convention on Climate Change,
California academics and political leaders were mulling how to
better deploy the distressing projections to give unwary
citizens a better understanding of what’s at stake and compel
them to see the wisdom of embracing sustainability.
Now, as a series of deadly fires rages in Wine Country, serious
questions are once again being asked about the safety of
overhead electrical wires in a state prone to drought and
fierce winds. On Wednesday, Cal Fire said that investigators
have started looking into whether toppled power wires and
exploding transformers Sunday night may have ignited the
simultaneous string of blazes.
A cascade of extreme weather events fed Northern California’s
wildfires that exploded Sunday: Unusually high winds blew
flames through unusually dense and dry vegetation, which sprung
up following last winter’s heavy rains and then were toasted by
months of record hot temperatures.
A lot of people and jobs in the Southwest rely on water from
the Colorado River. According to a University of Arizona study,
the river system contributes more than $840 billion to the
Gross State Products of Arizona and California alone. But the
region’s in a long-running drought.
The number of salmon returning to spawn at Coleman National
Fish Hatchery in Anderson could reach historic lows this year
— a legacy of the five-year drought that ended last year.
At this time of year dozens of salmon would normally be teeming
in the waters of Battle Creek near the hatchery.
Good habits die hard, it seems, after five years of epic
drought – for most Californians, anyway. The historic dry
spell from 2012 to 2016 prompted many state residents to reduce
their water consumption, as did strict regulations imposed by
state agencies and individual water districts.
SOUTHWEST (California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and
Arizona) -The average annual temperature has already gone up
1.56 degrees since 1901-1960 and is projected to rise another
4.8 degrees by mid-century and 8.65 degrees by the end of the
century if carbon pollution continues unabated.
East Porterville took by far the hardest hit in the [San
Joaquin] valley during the drought, state officials say. …
The State Water Resources Control Board has responded with
$35 million to connect East Porterville’s 300-plus dry
homes to Porterville’s system. Another 400 homeowners who
didn’t lose their wells have opted into the Porterville hookup
to prevent future water problems.
Since the state’s drought officially ended earlier this year,
there’s also been a precipitous drop in Californians worrying
about having enough water. Last July, 62 percent said water
supply was a big problem for the state.
Visitors to North Lake Tahoe this summer will notice the steady
flow of the Truckee River, the high water level of Lake Tahoe,
and dense green growth that has sprung up across the region
thanks to record snow and rainfall this winter. But they’ll
also see an increasing number of dead trees.
Several years of drought had severely depleted the Kern, a
popular whitewater rafting destination known for its dramatic
rapids. But this year’s wet winter created a record Sierra
Nevada snowpack, and the melt has engorged the river with
swift, frigid water.
As drought and water shortages become California’s new normal,
more and more of the water that washes down drains and flushes
down toilets is being cleaned and recycled for outdoor
irrigation. But some public officials, taking cues
from countries where water scarcity is a fact of life, want to
take it further and make treated wastewater available for much
more — even drinking.
The seemingly contradictory weather conditions — a heat wave
and mountains still piled high with snow — are one final legacy
of a historic winter that brought the most rain ever recorded
in Northern California. Months of back-to-back storms finally
pulled California out of its five-year drought. But they left
behind up to 200 inches of snow.
During drought, people conserve water. That’s a good thing for
public water agencies and the state as a whole but the reduction
in use ultimately means less money flowing into the budgets of
those very agencies that need funds to treat water to drinkable
standards, maintain a distribution system, and build a more
“There are two things that can’t happen to a water utility – you
can’t run out of money and you can’t run out of water,” said Tom
Esqueda, public utilities director for the city of Fresno. He was
a panelist at a June 16 discussion in Sacramento about drought
resiliency sponsored by the Public Policy Institute of California