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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.

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 | 8 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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Bay Area Storm Update: Yes, We Just Got Soaked

KQED Science | December 1, 2014

Bay Area Storm Update: Yes, We Just Got Soaked

The rainy weekend is over and the sun has returned. Next up: a wetter and windier storm that should arrive the Bay Area Tuesday morning.

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California Drought Boosts ‘Cash for Grass’ Programs

KQED Science | December 1, 2014 | 5 Comments

California Drought Boosts ‘Cash for Grass’ Programs

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.

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Hot Showers a Blessing for Valley Town Suffering From Drought

KQED Science | November 26, 2014

Hot Showers a Blessing for Valley Town Suffering From Drought

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.

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California Drought: A Glimmer of Hope For Winter Rain And Snow

KQED Science | November 20, 2014 | 2 Comments

California Drought: A Glimmer of Hope For Winter Rain And Snow

But given the state of long-range forecasting, climatologists admit that the glimmer could be a mirage.

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This Week’s Rain Unlikely to Dent Drought

KQED Science | November 18, 2014 | 0 Comments

This Week’s Rain Unlikely to Dent Drought

Rain systems so far this season have been on the wimpy side. This next series is likely to continue the trend.

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Designing California Cities for a Long-Term Drought

KQED Science | November 18, 2014 | 12 Comments

Designing California Cities for a Long-Term Drought

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.

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