California’s climate, characterized by warm, dry summers and mild winters, makes the state’s water supply unpredictable. For instance, runoff and precipitation in California can be quite variable. The northwestern part of the state can receive more than 140 inches per year while the inland deserts bordering Mexico can receive less than 4 inches.
By the Numbers:
Precipitation averages about 193 million acre-feet per year.
In a normal precipitation year, about half of the state’s available surface water – 35 million acre-feet – is collected in local, state and federal reservoirs.
California is home to more than 1,300 reservoirs.
About two-thirds of annual runoff evaporates, percolates into the ground or is absorbed by plants, leaving about 71 million acre-feet in average annual runoff.
The tow trucks are busy these days at Lake Camanche, rescuing drivers who get stuck on the sandy road that drops toward the receding shoreline. … And at New Melones Lake, a ghostly forest and portions of an old town have emerged as the water drops nearly one vertical football field below the spillway at the dam.
The fight in San Bernardino County is part of a wider tug of war between cities and private owners over water systems. More broadly, the controversy is over the degree to which Wall Street and other private parties should be controlling basic municipal infrastructure such as water systems and parking meters.
A group of environmentalists accused the federal government on Tuesday of not pushing Nestle Corp. to update its permits to tap and divert water in the San Bernardino Mountains, an operation they say is sapping vital water from public land.
Environmental groups sued the U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday, alleging that the agency has allowed Nestle Waters to draw water from a creek in the San Bernardino Mountains under a permit that expired more than 25 years ago.
In the latest indicator of the severity of the drought, the federal government’s main reservoirs serving California have begun the new “water year” at just a quarter full and in worse shape than last year.
California needs water. Blue Lake in Sitka, Alaska, has a lot. So a company that holds the rights to up to 9 billion gallons of the lake’s water is pitching an idea that would send some of it — via tanker ship — to the Golden State as it endures the fourth year of severe drought.
Last winter, residents [of Lompico in the Santa Cruz mountains] agreed to have the neighboring San Lorenzo Valley Water District take over their mom-and-pop operation. … At least 18 districts have been consolidated since 2013, according to the State Water Resources Control Board.
Experts say people affected by the drought also face stress, which can escalate to anxiety, depression and a host of other mental conditions. Studies show those findings are especially true for people who rely on water for economic survival, such as farmers, and people living in rural areas with fewer options for income and care.
The largest federal aid program for improving the nation’s drinking water systems has struggled to spend money in a timely fashion despite demand for assistance that far exceeds the amount available, a review by The Associated Press shows.
Across the country, small towns and big cities alike are debating how much they can afford to spend to make contaminated water fit for drinking. … A study released in June by the U.S. Geological Survey found nearly one-fifth of the groundwater used for public drinking systems in California contained excessive levels of potentially toxic contaminants.
The [Orange] county’s diverse efforts to keep water flowing are a model for other communities across the nation with stressed supplies. Roughly 112 million Americans are now affected by drought, according to federal calculations.
California environmentalists plan to file a new water bond proposal with the secretary of state next week, a measure backers say will provide critical money for programs that were under funded by the $7.8 billion bond passed by voters last year.
A committee of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is scheduled to meet today in closed session for negotiations with Delta Wetlands Properties, the private company that owns those four islands.
Two of California’s largest and most aggressive water agencies have discussed buying four islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, prompting accusations by environmentalists and Delta farmers that the land purchases could be used to engineer a south state water grab.
Clout can be defined in many ways. In California’s parched Central Valley farmlands, it’s the ability to secure water. By that measure, the giant Westlands Water District has just set a whole new standard.
Eleven local governmental bodies, trade groups, labor groups and others have filed amici “friend of the court” support for the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project in a remote Mojave Desert section of San Bernardino County.
Gerald Meral, a former deputy secretary of the state’s Natural Resources Agency, sent draft language for “The Water Supply Reliability and Drought Protection Act of 2016” to water agency officials, environmentalists and others in recent days.
A fight over Crystal Geyser Water Company’s plans to tap water at the base of Mount Shasta is headed to court after a group sued to block the company from starting up a bottling plant that would produce sparkling mineral water, tea and juice drinks.
A coalition of non-profit organizations and businesses has started a crowd-funding campaign called the California Drought Relief Fund to provide assistance to families affected by the state’s unprecedented drought and wildfires, said Dianne Saenz of Climate Nexus.
Should the current drought extend for another two or three years, most California cities and much of the state’s agriculture would be able to manage, but the toll on small rural communities dependent on well-water and on wetlands and wildlife could be extensive.
Written by water and watershed experts working at the policy [Public Policy Institute of California] center, at the University of California, Davis, and elsewhere, the report urges California to do more now to deal with what researchers project to be the biggest drought crises of 2016 and 2017 – crashing wildlife populations, raging wildfires and more and more poor rural communities running out of water entirely.
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.
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.
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.
High in the San Bernardino Mountains, on a steep slope covered with brush and ferns, a bunker-like stone structure protrudes from the mountainside. Behind its locked metal doors, water is collected from wells and flows into a pipe to fill bottles of Arrowhead 100% Mountain Spring Water.
By some estimates, hanging onto more stormwater—as opposed to just cleaning it so it doesn’t wash pollutants into rivers, aquifers and the ocean—could supply a city such as Los Angeles with a third to half of the water it needs annually – and reduce demand for water from up here.
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.
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.
Fresno County supervisors want to lead an effort to get bond money to build Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River when funding becomes available in early 2017. … The county is being pressed into action after the splintering of the Friant Water Authority, said Supervisor Brian Pacheco.
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.
With Gov. Jerry Brown imposing new mandatory water reductions to respond to the statewide emergency, school districts are grappling with how to adhere to those requirements while continuing to meet the needs of students and communities. … Some wells serving schools are drying up.
A plan to save endangered fish has pushed California’s fragile water system almost to the breaking point, putting additional strain on farmers while drawing down reservoirs at Folsom and Oroville to historically low levels.
Water will continue to flow to Mountain House under a deal reached Monday, and a separate water sale pending approval Tuesday would slake the community’s thirst for the rest of the year, officials said.
Mountain House, an upscale community near Tracy, learned of its precarious situation this month when the State Water Resources Control Board issued a notice ordering the [Byron Bethany Irrigation] district to “immediately stop diverting water.”
Cattle rancher Mary Wells lives in a remote valley of summer-gold grass where eagles wheel in the sky, wild pigs roam the surrounding hills and rattlesnakes slither over a parched 14,000-acre domain that looks almost untouched by humans.
On the perennially vexing subjects of water and the drought, Gov. Jerry Brown has been on something of a roll. … The drought has risen to the top of the list of Californians’ concerns, a new poll shows, and not just in regions of the state where water is a constant problem.
In a fresh challenge to California’s management of the drought, a group of environmentalists has sued state and federal officials, charging that they’re harming fish and wildlife in their efforts to deliver more water to farms and cities.
The Water Education Foundation’s flagship event, the 33rd annual Executive Briefing, will be held March 17, 2016 in Sacramento. The theme for this year’s Briefing is “Defining the New Normal.”
This is the go-to conference for water district managers and board members, state and federal agency officials, city and county government officials, farmers, environmentalists, attorneys, consultants, engineers, business executives and public interest groups.
Confirmed speakers include State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus and California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird. See announcements on the right-hand of this screen for more program information.
Doubletree by Hilton
2001 Point West Way, Sacramento, CA 95815
The Fresno City Council on Thursday bought some much-needed water and brought some unexpected peace to a dust-control program. … Weeks of negotiations with the Friant Water Authority and the federal Bureau of Reclamation led to a something-is-better-than-nothing scenario.
Protesters rallied outside a Nestle water-bottling plant in Los Angeles today [May 20], demanding that the company halt its operations in response to the state’s drought. A simultaneous rally was held at a plant in Sacramento.
After spending decades trapped in the lower Yuba River, endangered Chinook salmon could once again swim the cold pools in the upper reaches of the waterway — staving off extinction and settling a dispute that has lingered for years.
The permit that the bottled water company Nestle is using to pipe water out of a national forest lists an expiration date of 1988, and it’s just one of hundreds of permits that the U.S. Forest Service has allowed to fall out-of-date in California.
San Francisco is unreasonably monopolizing spectacular Hetch Hetchy Valley by using it as a 117-billion-gallon reservoir, says a new lawsuit in a decades-old fight to restore the Yosemite National Park landmark.
Desalination promises a world with no limits. … That promise is driving the $1 billion desalination plant that Poseidon Water is set to open in Carlsbad this November. And it has brought Poseidon within one permit of building a plant in Huntington Beach.
Representatives of the state’s almond farmers defended the decision to expand California’s orchards, saying growers with adequate water supplies are making rational economic decisions based on the price they can get for their crop.
Communities in California’s seared Central Valley and arid mountain foothills are expected to end this year’s rainless summer with drinking water supplies so tight that they may give out by September, according to state and local water administrators. … The work to develop new water supplies and to use existing water resources in new ways is testing California’s resolve and is steadily evolving into dramatic political battles that, for the time being, focus on water in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the state’s hydrologic choke point.
The Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based think tank that focuses on water issues, released a report Wednesday that shows total water use in the United States declined over a period that ended before the current California drought began.
Because of the complex network of irrigation districts, reservoirs and contracts on the 300 square mile Klamath Reclamation District, some farmers will get 100 percent of what they do in a wet year, while others will get zero, said Greg Addington of the Klamath Water Users Association.
Nature provided many bounties for the San Diego area — among them beaches, mountains, a mild climate, grassy valleys and a natural harbor. But it failed to provide that thing most essential to life: water.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is overhauling its proposal for a controversial tunnel project in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta in the wake of doubts about whether water exporters can meet stringent federal conditions for operating the system over a 50-year period.
Hollie Cannon, executive director of the Klamath Water and Power Agency, said he has no doubts the water allocation to the Klamath Project will be worse than last year, but irrigators won’t know for sure until next week when the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) releases its 2015 Klamath Project Operations Plan.
Surface storage is the first and most important part of a comprehensive water solution. Even the areas of the state with the greatest potential to recharge groundwater require a steady supply of water to fill the underground aquifers.
Most years, 85% of the wet season’s rain and snow has already fallen by late March. While rain often falls in April and May, it is rarely enough to make a big difference in the overall water picture, and the forecast is now quite dry. That means California’s water managers now have a good idea how much water will be available in the state’s reservoirs, snowpack, and groundwater basins.
While Yuba City residents are looking at the likelihood of mandatory water restrictions for the rest of this year, Marysville citizens aren’t facing the same water challenges. … Q&A: Marysville’s Water Supply
A long-delayed draft environmental impact report for the 710-acre Monterey Downs race track and equestrian-themed development on Fort Ord confirms what has been known for some time; there’s only enough water for part of the massive proposal until new water supply projects are completed.
Pressured by a relentless drought that produced the lowest winter snowfall in history and shows no signs of lifting, California’s local and state government administrators are responding with emergency measures that reflect their concern that the state is actually running out of water.
The drought’s impacts are worsened by record heat, which has dried out soils and raised the demands for irrigation, and the historical high levels of California’s population, economy, and agricultural production, and historical low levels of native fish species. … No “Miracle March” this year. … Snowpack is a little worse than last year, perhaps the driest on record statewide.
The Bureau of Reclamation reports that, due to continued dry conditions, the initial 2015 water supply allocation released on February 27 for Central Valley Project agricultural contractors and municipal and industrial contractors remains unchanged.
The water frozen in snow throughout the Sierra Nevada is 8% of average — less than a third the size of the smallest on record. On Wednesday when this disappointing wet season ends, the headlines will be the next alarm bell in the state’s damaging, four-year drought.
Already cities and water districts in the North State and beyond have been working to broker water transfers, remind folks about restrictions and take other steps in the hopes of meeting demand during the peak summer months.
When drought makes water scarcer in California, those with senior water rights are offered more money to move their water to other users. But fish are asked to give up their water for free. … For California, even partial markets for environmental water would satisfy the state’s stated “co-equal” environmental and economic goals for water management.
From east to west, ever since the world began, there was water. Plentiful. Clean. Always available. None of those descriptions apply to water today. … The world right now is drowning in water risks: floods, droughts, contamination, disease, dead seas, and shortages.
With the state entering its fourth year of drought, some conservationists are looking at thinning Sierra forests to increase the amount of water that flows into area rivers. … On Friday, the Association of California Water Agencies also released its own report that calls for better headwater and forest management – and for better collaboration among federal, state and other agencies, and other stakeholders.
Lawmakers are proposing emergency legislation, state officials are clamping down on watering lawns and, as California enters a fourth year of drought, some are worried that the state could run out of water.
The [U.N.] report, released in New Delhi two days before World Water Day, calls on policymakers and communities to rethink water policies, urging more conservation as well as recycling of wastewater as is done in Singapore.
State water leaders Thursday told water district leaders, farmers, bankers and many others at California State University, Fresno, to expect possibly a record-breaking small snowpack. … The briefing, sponsored by the state Department of Water Resources and the Water Education Foundation, is an attempt to explain the dire situation after four years of drought.
California, as you might have heard, is running out of water. Very, very quickly. … Perhaps you read NASA senior water scientist Jay Famiglietti’s rather terrifying op-ed in the LA Times, declaring that, by all available measures, our state has only one year of water storage left?
So far, landowners in the Sacramento Valley have made commitments for 85,000 acre-feet of water if Sites Reservoir is built. … A few weeks ago Reps. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, and Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, introduced a bill to speed up the Sites Reservoir feasibility study. In the meantime, the Sites JPA is looking to hire a general manager …
The Lake Don Pedro community is operating in emergency mode. For the last several weeks, work crews have drilled well after well, hoping to find groundwater. … Lake McClure depends entirely on rain and snow runoff from the Merced River watershed.
Warm temperatures and a lack of snowfall in February have taken a toll on winter snowpack in the Cascade Mountains and other areas in the West, the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service said Wednesday.
Levels at Sierra reservoirs that supply water for 1.3 million East Bay customers are as low as they’ve been in nearly 40 years, and it could take a miracle to make them better before the onset of the long dry season, officials were told Tuesday.
The Shasta County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider purchasing 250 acre-feet of water, about 81 million gallons, from the McConnell Foundation to feed the needs of four county-run water districts after projections in February showed unprecedented water allocation cutbacks from the Central Valley Project.
[Abelardo De Leon] Garcia, 81, had lost his water well on Easter Sunday last year. Nearly a year later, his water supply has been resurrected, thanks to federal funding and a Visalia-based nonprofit called Self-Help Enterprises.
After 40 years of working on California water issues, it sometimes feels to me [George Miller] as if we haven’t learned anything. … The policies of the past century won’t work in a future where we will face continued population growth and the effects of climate change.
How does the south San Joaquin Valley get some water in back-to-back drought years while the east side goes without? And, by the way, vast tracts of farmland on the Valley’s west side also will be shut out.
Had it not been for a couple of days of snowfall during the weekend, the ground would have been bare, Frank Gehrke of the Department of Water Resources said Tuesday during a snow survey at Philips Station near Sierra-At-Tahoe Road.
Snowpack—which essentially serves as a water tower for the western United States—produces vital meltwater that flows off the mountains each spring. … But the snowpack is becoming more like a snow gap, as temperatures in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada become too warm for the snow that replenishes the ecosystem each winter.
State and federal officials favoring fish habitat are to blame for the Oakdale Irrigation District’s tentative plan to drain Tulloch Lake this summer, OID leaders told dozens of anxious lake-area residents.
Snow levels in the Sierra Nevada are at or below what they were during the driest years in California’s recorded history, surveyors said Tuesday, dashing hopes that last weekend’s storm would begin to pull the state out of its increasingly frightful drought.
In a clear indicator that California is descending into a fourth year of drought, the federal government on Friday announced that the Central Valley Project — California’s largest water delivery system — will provide no water again this year to most Central Valley farmers and only 25 percent of the contracted amount to urban areas such as Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
The federal government said Friday it won’t send any of its reservoir water to the Central Valley for the second straight year, forcing farmers in California’s agricultural heartland to again scramble for other sources or leave fields unplanted.
In another blow to California’s parched heartland, federal officials said Friday that for the second year in a row most Central Valley farmers are unlikely to receive water from the region’s major irrigation project this summer.
Hundreds of farmers in the Central Valley were told Friday they can expect zero water deliveries this year from the federal government, the latest fallout from what is likely to be a fourth straight drought year in California. … The announcement does not affect all farms.
Rainfall, snowpack and runoff estimates are way below average, indicating the state will continue in drought-emergency mode throughout the year, state and regional water experts told a gathering of 120 water managers Wednesday at a forum sponsored by the Southern California Water Committee and the National Water Research Institute.
In the January/February issue of Western Water Magazine, Writer Gary Pitzer delves into the notion of a “sustainable” and “resilient” water supply. His article highlights what sustainability and resiliency mean to a state in the middle of a drought and with a growing population and water needs that stretch from bustling cities in the north and south to the rich agricultural fields of the Central, Imperial and Coachella valleys and Central Coast. … Read the excerpts from this issue. Purchase a printed magazine or subscribe to the digital, interactive version.
After resisting disclosure, Monterey Peninsula Regional Water Authority president Jason Burnett released a draft proposal late Tuesday aimed at delaying a state-ordered cutback in pumping from the Carmel River by four years.
Exactly six months ago, the Capitol’s politicians were hailing a new era of bipartisan comity and cooperation with the overwhelming passage of $7.5 billion in bonds to improve the state’s water supply.
California will need to address several key water policy areas to secure a safe and reliable water supply, improve the ecosystem and reduce flood risks, according to a new comprehensive multi-topic policy paper released Tuesday by the Public Policy Institute of California.
The Metropolitan Water District, the agency that supplies the bulk of the water for Southern California, is considering water rationing by summer unless statewide drought conditions radically improve, the agency announced Monday.
As the state faces a possible fourth year of drought, Northern California is enjoying a healthy wet winter so far, with rainfall levels at 100 percent of their historic average or above in nearly every city, and reservoirs, while still not back to normal, steadily filling.
Here’s the bad news: Despite days of precipitation, California’s snowpack was barely boosted after a weekend of storms that brought power outages, downed trees, thunderstorms and a threat of tornadoes.
The weekend storm brought more than an inch of rain around the Bay Area by Saturday evening and up to 2 feet of wet snow at higher Sierra Nevada elevations near Lake Tahoe, but Northern California’s largest drinking water reservoirs were still well below average levels.
Today, snow sensors scattered through the Sierra, satellite imagery and aerial flybys augment the 106-year-old “manual survey.” The technology helps to provide a clearer update of California’s water conditions that water agencies depend on to perform the increasingly crucial job of managing our diminishing water supply for the rest of the year.
The dry January was the topic of discussion Monday at a meeting held by the Sonoma County Water Agency, which provides drinking water to more than 600,000 residents in Sonoma and Marin counties — relying exclusively on rainfall captured in two reservoirs.
The Bureau of Reclamation is seeking applications for the Basin Studies Program in 2015. Interested non-federal entities wishing to participate in the selection process should submit a short letter of interest to their respective Reclamation regional office by Feb. 24, 2015. Through basin studies, Reclamation works with state and local partners to conduct comprehensive water supply and demand studies of river basins in the western United States.
Felicia Marcus gets in the shower when it’s still cold. As full-time chair of California’s State Water Resources Control Board, Marcus has a key role in how California stewards its finite resources during a devastating drought.
Traditionally California’s wettest month, January’s meager rainfall has produced a miniscule improvement in the crucial winter snowpack in the Sierra Nevada that historically provides about 30 percent of the state’s water needs.
The state Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the two agencies that operate most of California’s large dams, are in the early stages of studying possible rules changes to accommodate shifts in hydrology expected with a warming climate.
For the first time ever, San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento have recorded no rainfall for the month of January — nada drop. … Southern California has had better luck, enjoying a couple of significant weather systems this month that came up from the south.
The latest survey of California’s mountain snowpack on Thursday brought the bad news slamming home: This month will rank as the driest January in state history at many locations, virtually assuring a fourth straight year of drought. On Thursday, the statewide snowpack was 25 percent of normal for the date.
After receiving nearly 160 percent of normal rainfall in November and December — thus causing Santa Cruz to suspend mandatory water rationing for residential customers — the driest January on record stands as a stark reminder of how vulnerable the water supply is to nature’s mood swings.
On the eve of the January snowpack survey of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, water management officials said Southern California’s largest water wholesaler may need to institute stricter water limits if winter precipitation does not improve.
As part of the newly formed Californians for Water Security, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group has joined a coalition of farmers, businesses and labor, environmental and water leaders to support the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, Gov. Jerry Brown’s bold strategy to fix the state’s deteriorating water distribution system.
As California caps what may be its driest January on record, Frank Gehrke will lead a bevy of surveyors on Thursday to a predetermined spot on Echo Summit in an exercise that has become a monthly downer in the documentation of the state’s historic drought.
A year after forming a special panel to evaluate future water supply options, the Santa Cruz City Council on Tuesday agreed to extend the group’s timeline for making recommendations and increase spending for a facilitator to guide the work.
Less than three months after California voters approved a water bond that contains $2.7 billion for new water storage, one of the leading projects under consideration has suffered a potentially fatal setback.
In some of the world’s driest places, atmospheric moisture is a major source of water for native ecosystems. … Some drought-minded California residents along the coast, perhaps yearning for a clear ocean view, have suggested harvesting fog as a water supply.
In preparation for the initial 2015 water supply allocation announcement in late February, the Bureau of Reclamation provided an update today [Jan. 23] on water supply conditions for the federal Central Valley Project (CVP).
Santa Barbara County water agencies announced Friday that they will receive $2 million in state funding for a pumping project at Cachuma Lake — a source of drinking water for 220,000 people on the southern central coast — where water levels have dropped precipitously low.
A split Marina Coast Water District board decided to resume its previous quest for a desalination plant, with a goal of providing a new potable water supply within two years to new development in Fort Ord, including Monterey Downs.
The Turlock Irrigation District could cap water deliveries at about 40 percent of the customary amount even if the rest of winter brings average rain and snow. The district staff on Tuesday night provided an initial look at the supply for 2015, which is looking to be a fourth straight year of drought.