Drought Watch 2015
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.
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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)
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.
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.
Our best climate models, combined with our best climate records, foresee at least a century of profound drought in the Midwest and Southwest.
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
'Frozen reservoir,' source of a third of California's water, is far below historical average.
Newest Earth science mission could extend the accuracy range of weather forecasts, fine-tune flood forecasts.
Scientists hope a stubborn high-pressure bubble over the West Coast isn't a replay of the last two winters.
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.