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Drought Watch 2015

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 all the stories we’ve produced.

How Bad Is It?

It’s bad. After what one state water official called a “hopeful moment” in December, January went into the books as one of California’s driest on record. San Francisco and Sacramento, for instance, each got zero precipitation for the month.

Scientists agree that record-high temperatures have exacerbated the current drought, sapping moisture from the soil and preventing snow from building up the “frozen reservoir” in the Sierra. In early February, water content of the Sierra snowpack had withered to just over one-fifth of the long-term average.

More than three-quarters of California remains in “extreme” drought, and nearly 40 percent of the state is in “exceptional” drought, the most extreme category according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Share Your Story

We’re collecting and sharing photos, graphics, water-saving tips and, yes, the occasional haiku, on our Tumblr blog, State of Drought.

Click the image for a description of each drought category.

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)

Background

2013 is in the books as California’s driest calendar year on record and the years 2011 to 2014 were the driest three-year period recorded (using the federal government’s July-June “water year”).

Gov. Brown declared an official statewide drought in January of 2013, 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.

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.

State figures show a fairly steady increase in urban conservation levels. 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.”

Despite heavy rains in December of 2013, many of the state’s key reservoirs remain at historically low levels.

Governor Orders Water Cuts Amid Record Low Snowpack

KQED Science | March 31, 2015 | 8 Comments

Governor Orders Water Cuts Amid Record Low Snowpack

Governor Jerry Brown orders the state Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory reductions to cut water use by 25 percent.

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Why Isn’t Desalination the Answer to All California’s Water Problems?

KQED Science | March 30, 2015 | 75 Comments

Why Isn’t Desalination the Answer to All California’s Water Problems?

After four years of nowhere near enough rain, Californians are wondering where else to look for water, and many are talking about the ocean -- desalination. The problem is, it’s really expensive to turn salt water into drinking water. And it’s hard to do it in a way that’s friendly to sea life. But a group of mayors around Monterey Bay say they don't have any other options.

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A Candid Conversation With California’s ‘Water Czar’

KQED Science | March 23, 2015 | 17 Comments

A Candid Conversation With California’s ‘Water Czar’

The State Water Resources Control Board is California's top arbiter of water supply conflicts. Lately it's been caught in a tug of war between those who would have it tread lightly with local water agencies and those calling for aggressive statewide rationing.

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Calif. Water Regulators Tighten the Screws — But Just a Little

KQED Science | March 17, 2015 | 2 Comments

Calif. Water Regulators Tighten the Screws — But Just a Little

As California plods into its fourth year of drought, critics say the latest round of statewide water restrictions are too little -- and possibly too late.

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Los Angeles Willing to Pay Its Highest Price Ever for Water

KQED Science | March 16, 2015 | 2 Comments

Los Angeles Willing to Pay Its Highest Price Ever for Water

Los Angeles is offering rice farmers in the Sacramento Valley more money than the city has ever paid for water — $700 per acre-foot. At this price, rice farmers could make more money selling water than they can make on their crops. That makes it easy to say “yes,” says Lance Tennis, whose family has […]

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March Drought Update: A North-South Divide, and Where’s the Snow?

KQED Science | March 3, 2015 | 0 Comments

March Drought Update: A North-South Divide, and Where’s the Snow?

Uneven rainfall across the state has helped replenish Northern California reservoirs, while those to the south remain in mostly abysmal shape. Meantime, the latest snow report is in, and it's not good.

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Something Californians Can Agree On: The Drought’s Serious

KQED Science | February 26, 2015

Something Californians Can Agree On: The Drought’s Serious

The Field Poll has been surveying Californians in good times and bad for decades, and rarely does it find respondents unanimous — or virtually unanimous — on anything. The Poll finds that 94 percent of Californians view the drought, now in its fourth year, as either extremely or somewhat serious.

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New Study: Global Warming Will Bring Megadroughts to the West

KQED Science | February 12, 2015 | 6 Comments

New Study: Global Warming Will Bring Megadroughts to the West

Our best climate models, combined with our best climate records, foresee at least a century of profound drought in the Midwest and Southwest.

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Rain? Rain? Did Someone Say … Rain?

KQED Science | February 2, 2015

Rain? Rain? Did Someone Say … Rain?

Can you remember, without thinking about it too hard, the last time you saw rain here in the Bay Area? For me, it was Christmas Eve, when it rained just hard enough and long enough to get water running in the Berkeley gutters. Then the sun came out, and it's ...Read More

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Shrinking Sierra Snowpack Heightens Drought Worries

KQED Science | January 29, 2015 | 0 Comments

Shrinking Sierra Snowpack Heightens Drought Worries

'Frozen reservoir,' source of a third of California's water, is far below historical average.

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NASA Satellite Could Help Weather Forecasts, Drought Management

KQED Science | January 28, 2015 | 1 Comment

NASA Satellite Could Help Weather Forecasts, Drought Management

Newest Earth science mission could extend the accuracy range of weather forecasts, fine-tune flood forecasts.

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‘Ridiculous Ridge’ May Be Back to Prolong California Drought

KQED Science | January 23, 2015 | 9 Comments

‘Ridiculous Ridge’ May Be Back to Prolong California Drought

Scientists hope a stubborn high-pressure bubble over the West Coast isn't a replay of the last two winters.

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2014: California’s Warmest Year on Record

KQED Science | January 8, 2015 | 2 Comments

2014: California’s Warmest Year on Record

Drought conditions were compounded by high temps despite a "near-average" precipitation year.

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Warm Temps Mean Less Snow for the Sierra

KQED Science | December 30, 2014 | 2 Comments

Warm Temps Mean Less Snow for the Sierra

Despite those December storms, this year's Sierra snowpack is far below average for this date.

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A Thirsty Town Debates Need for New Source of Water

KQED Science | December 22, 2014 | 3 Comments

A Thirsty Town Debates Need for New Source of Water

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.

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Storms a Boon for Rainwater Harvesters

KQED Science | December 17, 2014 | 11 Comments

Storms a Boon for Rainwater Harvesters

More Northern California residents are harnessing winter storms and cashing in on local rebate programs for rainwater harvesting.

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California’s Drought: Is it Global Warming?

KQED Science | December 8, 2014 | 8 Comments

California’s Drought: Is it Global Warming?

Not really, says a new report from federal climate scientists. But others say that report doesn't show the whole picture.

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How California’s Water Rights Make It Tough to Manage Drought

KQED Science | December 8, 2014 | 12 Comments

How California’s Water Rights Make It Tough to Manage Drought

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?

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Study: California Drought Most Severe Dry Spell in at least 1,200 Years

KQED Science | December 4, 2014 | 2 Comments

Study: California Drought Most Severe Dry Spell in at least 1,200 Years

Low precipitation and record high temperatures combine to set startling record.

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New Residential Water Use Numbers Indicate Conservation Backslide

KQED Science | December 2, 2014 | 0 Comments

New Residential Water Use Numbers Indicate Conservation Backslide

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.

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