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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 all the stories we've produced.

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.


Click the image for a description of each drought category.

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

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.

State water officials have released monthly plans for operating the state's reservoirs and rivers in an attempt to balance the needs of people and wildlife.

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.

Storms a Boon for Rainwater Harvesters

KQED Science | December 17, 2014 | 9 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 | 3 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 | 1 Comment

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 | 11 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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Drought Brings Boom for Water Delivery Trucks

KQED Science | November 17, 2014

Drought Brings Boom for Water Delivery Trucks

They help Central Valley residents whose wells run low. For Eugene Keeney, it's a thriving business.

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Why California’s Drought is America’s Problem

The Lowdown | November 17, 2014

Why California’s Drought is America’s Problem

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.

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Drought Photos: See Lake Oroville Fall Near Historic Low Over 20 Months

KQED Science | November 14, 2014

Drought Photos: See Lake Oroville Fall Near Historic Low Over 20 Months

"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.

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Parched: California Wildlife Suffers in Drought

KQED Science | November 10, 2014 | 0 Comments

Parched: California Wildlife Suffers in Drought

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.

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New Numbers Highlight Contrasts in California Water Use

KQED Science | November 4, 2014 | 3 Comments

New Numbers Highlight Contrasts in California Water Use

Who's using the most -- and the least water? The numbers are in -- but officials warn that they can be misleading.

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State Water Bond Scores Easy Win

KQED Science | November 4, 2014

State Water Bond Scores Easy Win

The most expensive measure on yesterday's statewide ballot and the one that may have the greatest impact on California's long-term future was Proposition 1, a $7.5 billion water bond.

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Why California’s Largest Estuary No Longer Works for Wildlife

KQED Science | October 30, 2014 | 4 Comments

Why California’s Largest Estuary No Longer Works for Wildlife

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.

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California Voters to Decide on $7.5 Billion Water Bond

QUEST | October 29, 2014

California Voters to Decide on $7.5 Billion Water Bond

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.

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A First: Drought Tops List of Californians’ Worries

KQED Science | October 22, 2014 | 2 Comments

A First: Drought Tops List of Californians’ Worries

A new statewide poll reveals a virtual tie between water and jobs atop the most-pressing-issues list.

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