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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.

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 | 26 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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Landmark Groundwater Reform Headed to Governor’s Desk

KQED Science | August 29, 2014 | 2 Comments

Landmark Groundwater Reform Headed to Governor’s Desk

The era of unlimited groundwater pumping in California could be ending. A package of bills would require local agencies to restore over-pumped aquifers.

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Leaky Pipes Lose Billions of Gallons of Water Every Year in the Bay Area

KQED Science | August 28, 2014 | 1 Comment

Leaky Pipes Lose Billions of Gallons of Water Every Year in the Bay Area

On top of the drought, the South Napa Quake damaged dozens of water pipes and last month a ruptured pipe ruptured on the UCLA campus leaked about 20 million gallons of water. So how strong is California's water infrastructure?

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California Drought Portrait: Our Shrinking Reservoirs

News Fix | August 26, 2014

California Drought Portrait: Our Shrinking Reservoirs

By Lisa Pickoff-White and Dan Brekke It's no surprise, really: Water levels in California's reservoirs continue to drop as the thirsty state waits for the first sign of fall rains. Still, it's startling to see the evidence of how far the reservoirs have fallen. Last week, Getty Images photographer ...Read More

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Epic Drought in West Is Literally Moving Mountains

KQED Science | August 21, 2014 | 0 Comments

Epic Drought in West Is Literally Moving Mountains

Some parts of California’s mountains have been uplifted by as much as half an inch in the past 18 months because the massive amount of water lost in the drought is no longer weighing down the land, causing it to rise a bit like an uncoiled spring.

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Drought-Stricken California Town Struggles to Keep the Water Flowing

KQED Science | August 20, 2014 | 2 Comments

Drought-Stricken California Town Struggles to Keep the Water Flowing

From heavy machinery to hand-held flour sifters, this town is pulling out all the stops to save its water.

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Gardening in the Drought: What Makes a Plant ‘Drought-Tolerant’

KQED Science | August 15, 2014 | 1 Comment

Gardening in the Drought: What Makes a Plant ‘Drought-Tolerant’

Plants have evolved all sorts of ways to survive the dry times in California.

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Water Restrictions: Meaning of ‘Mandatory’ Depends on Where You Live

KQED Science | August 12, 2014 | 2 Comments

Water Restrictions: Meaning of ‘Mandatory’ Depends on Where You Live

Enforcement strategies are all over the map, literally and figuratively.

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El Niño Fizzle: No Relief Likely for California Drought

KQED Science | August 7, 2014 | 8 Comments

El Niño Fizzle: No Relief Likely for California Drought

Odds of a strong pattern of warm Pacific waters forming in time to bring winter rains are diminishing.

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