Drought Watch 2014
We're collecting all of our California drought coverage here, starting with the current state of the drought, then providing the background and rounding up
How Bad Is It?
Recent research suggests the current dry spell is the most severe the area has experienced in at least 1,200 years. Although rainfall totals are low, record-high temperatures are suspected to have exacerbated the current drought to that truly historic distinction.
More than 94 percent of California remains in “severe” drought, and 55 percent of the state is in “exceptional” drought — defined as “widespread crop/pasture losses; shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells creating water emergencies,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Federal climate scientists say that the odds favor at least average precipitation across California this winter, but it would take far more than that to see significant drought relief.
This animation shows California’s drought through its development, from January, 2011, through early December, 2014, as expressed by NOAA’s U.S. Drought Monitor. (Olivia Hubert-Allen/KQED)
In July, regulators issued the first statewide water restrictions, which carry potential fines of up to $500 per day for repeat violators. Most local water agencies have responded in some way; more than eight-in-ten have put “mandatory” water restrictions in place.
Still, conservation levels have fallen short of the 20 percent reduction called for by Gov. Jerry Brown, and even slipped backward in October. State water regulators and local suppliers have launched a media campaign to reduce water use, especially outdoors.
The state’s $45 billion agricultural sector has taken severe cuts in state and federal water supplies. State and federal water managers set planned allocations from the state's two largest water delivery projects at zero for the first time ever, while vowing to maintain supplies vital to “health and safety.”
2013 is in the books as California's driest calendar year on record and 2014 will likely not be far behind. Gov. Brown declared an official statewide drought on Jan. 17, calling for a voluntary statewide reduction in water consumption. The drought declaration outlines 20 steps, some mandatory, some merely advisory, to deal with water shortages that have begun to affect many communities.
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The central coast town of Cambria faced running out of water this year. This week, the town launches its new emergency water source, but some in the community believe a fight to shut it down is only just beginning.
Here’s the thing: Water rights in California are based on who got there first. It’s as if you had to line up with all your coworkers to get a cup of coffee at work, and maybe the pot’s empty when the new guy gets to the front. Some are asking, in a drought like the one we’ve been having, is that really fair?
Low precipitation and record high temperatures combine to set startling record.
The year-over-year water-saving rate slid by more than a third in October, worrying officials calling on residents to reduce water usage during record drought.
California homeowners are replacing Kentucky bluegrass with native species and other water-friendly options to try and cut back on outdoor watering. Depending on what replacement residents choose, water districts may offer a cash reward for tearing out that thirsty lawn.
Drought conditions in parts of Central California are now so harsh that it has become normal to turn on the tap and have no water coming out. In the rural town of East Porterville, more than 600 household wells went dry this summer. Tulare County is now providing showers for the town's residents.
But given the state of long-range forecasting, climatologists admit that the glimmer could be a mirage.
Scientists say it’s possible California’s drought may last a lot longer than a few years. No one knows for sure, but we could all simply have to adjust to a drier climate. That could mean changing the way we build cities to make them more porous. The 'Hydramax,' a futuristic design pictured above, rises with the tide and captures water from the air.
Despite a few recent downpours, California remains stuck in one of the most severe statewide droughts on record. But it's far from just California's problem. The state produces a huge percentage of the nation's agriculture — nearly half of all fruits, vegetables and nuts, by some estimates.
"Drought poster child" lake sits just 5 feet above record low point, forcing people to rappel down to their boats at Bidwell Marina. If the water surface level drops much more, it could cause problems for hydroelectric power generation at Hyatt Power Plant in the bedrock of Lake Oroville.
Birds, salmon and snakes depend on marshes and rivers for survival and migration, and to propagate the species. But many wildlife species are unable to find the water they need as the drought shrinks rivers and dries up wetlands.
Who's using the most -- and the least water? The numbers are in -- but officials warn that they can be misleading.
Startling maps in a new report on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta show the dramatic loss of marshlands that once supported a vast array of wildlife.
On November 4, Californians will be able to exercise their opinion about water at the ballot box when they vote on Proposition 1, a $7.5 billion measure that would authorize the state to issue new bonds to pay for a wide variety of water-related projects.