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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.

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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Drought-Stressed Crops May Be Better For You

KQED Science | October 20, 2014 | 1 Comment

Drought-Stressed Crops May Be Better For You

Scientists in California's Central Valley are testing the nutrient content of fruits grown with less-than-normal amounts of water. And the findings so far are raising a question: will consumers buy fruits that are just as nutritional, or sometimes higher in antioxidants, if they aren't as pretty?

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High Temps Intensified California Drought

KQED Science | October 14, 2014 | 0 Comments

High Temps Intensified California Drought

Heat and drought often go hand-in-hand, creating a vicious cycle that looks a lot like California these days.

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With Drought, New Scrutiny Over Fracking’s Water Use

KQED Science | October 10, 2014 | 6 Comments

With Drought, New Scrutiny Over Fracking’s Water Use

The drought is putting a spotlight on water use around California, including for hydraulic fracturing. How much water does fracking use and will it increase as companies tap into the Monterey Shale, estimated to be the largest oil resource in country?

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California’s ‘Water Year’ Ends as Third Driest on Record

KQED Science | September 30, 2014 | 1 Comment

California’s ‘Water Year’ Ends as Third Driest on Record

Only 1924 and 1977 were drier. And there's little in the long-range forecasts to suggest a rebound soon.

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Long-Range Forecast: Less Snow for Skiers, Less Water for California

KQED Science | September 24, 2014 | 0 Comments

Long-Range Forecast: Less Snow for Skiers, Less Water for California

A new federal report affirms what scientists have been saying for years: California's "bank account" of snow-melt water may be overdrawn within decades.

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Drought Rallies Support for California Water Projects

KQED Science | September 23, 2014 | 1 Comment

Drought Rallies Support for California Water Projects

Water worries persist -- and may be driving support for a multi-billion-dollar water bond.

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What to Know About California’s New Groundwater Law

KQED Science | September 17, 2014 | 25 Comments

What to Know About California’s New Groundwater Law

Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation Tuesday that will require the first-ever rules for pumping groundwater in California. Here's why lawmakers and the governor acted, and what the new laws mean.

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Why More Trees in the Sierra Mean Less Water for California

KQED Science | September 15, 2014 | 27 Comments

Why More Trees in the Sierra Mean Less Water for California

California water districts are eyeing a potential new source of water: trees. After a century of fire suppression, Sierra Nevada forests are more dense than ever before. And those pine trees are taking up a lot of water that might otherwise run off into California rivers.

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Quake-Revived Streams Could Keep Flowing for a While

KQED Science | September 9, 2014 | 2 Comments

Quake-Revived Streams Could Keep Flowing for a While

The Napa quake jump-started several streams in the Napa and adjoining valleys, but how long they'll run and where the water is coming from is hard to pin down.

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How to Drive Home the Drought Message: Make It a Game

KQED Science | September 8, 2014 | 1 Comment

How to Drive Home the Drought Message: Make It a Game

As the drought continues, efforts to spur action include an online game that puts users in charge of California's water supply.

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Drought Myth-Busting: Why El Niño Is Never A Good Bet

KQED Science | September 1, 2014 | 3 Comments

Drought Myth-Busting: Why El Niño Is Never A Good Bet

The peculiar set of ocean conditions is known as a California rainmaker -- but El Niño's reputation has been greatly exaggerated.

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