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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.

The Gist

Eighty percent of California remains in “extreme” drought. Recent polling indicates that Californians now consider drought the most pressing environmental issue facing the state, and rank water and drought in a virtual tie with jobs and the economy as the top concern overall. 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.


This animation shows California’s drought through its development, from January, 2011 through early October 2014, as expressed by NOAA’s U.S. Drought Monitor. The darkest red color represents “exceptional drought.” Nearly 60 percent of the state was in this category in early October, with more than 80 percent classified as “extreme drought.” Open the controls at bottom right to vary the speed and direction. (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 Governor Jerry Brown. 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.”

State and federal officials are winding down a long and difficult wildfire season. By early August, the number of California wildfires was running 35 percent above average.

2013 is in the books as California's driest calendar year on record and 2014 will likely not be far behind. Gov. Jerry Brown declared an official statewide drought on January 17, as he called for a voluntary statewide reduction in water consumption. The drought declaration outlines 20 steps, some mandatory, some merely advisory, to meet 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.

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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Brown Wades Into Water Bond Debate

News Fix | August 6, 2014

Brown Wades Into Water Bond Debate

Gov. Jerry Brown (Randy Pench/Sacramento Bee/MCT via Getty Images) Gov. Jerry Brown is wading into the debate over a multibillion-dollar water bond. In a letter to campaign supporters, Brown called the $11 billion bond measure currently slated for the November ballot “a pork-laden water bond … with a price tag ...Read More

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Excessive Water Pumping Leaves Aquifers Vulnerable to Pollution

The California Report | August 5, 2014

Excessive Water Pumping Leaves Aquifers Vulnerable to Pollution

As reservoir levels dwindle, many regions are pumping water from underground. On the Central Coast, that's causing ocean water to pollute underground aquifers. The seawater is making groundwater unusable for crops like strawberries. ...Read More

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California’s Biggest Water Source Shrouded in Secrecy

KQED Science | July 31, 2014 | 18 Comments

California’s Biggest Water Source Shrouded in Secrecy

Stanford launches a major investigation of the state's dwindling groundwater resources and finds "alarming" gaps.

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Drought Becomes Top Environmental Priority for Californians

KQED Science | July 23, 2014 | 5 Comments

Drought Becomes Top Environmental Priority for Californians

Those surveyed say they favor mandatory restrictions on water use.

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California Fire Season: Threat of Dry Lightning Looms

KQED Science | July 21, 2014 | 0 Comments

California Fire Season: Threat of Dry Lightning Looms

Weather experts say the next couple of weeks could be some of the worst in state history for wildfires caused by lightning strikes.

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Feds Give Nearly $10 Million For California Drought Relief

News Fix | July 18, 2014

Feds Give Nearly $10 Million For California Drought Relief

More than 80% of California is now in severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. (Courtesy of U.S. Drought Monitor) A day after the U.S. Drought Monitor reported that more than 80% of the state is now experiencing extreme drought, the federal government is giving the state $9.7 million. ...Read More

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Three ‘Drought Bear’ Cubs Captured and Released at Lake Tahoe

News Fix | July 17, 2014

Three ‘Drought Bear’ Cubs Captured and Released at Lake Tahoe

Brace yourselves. There is a serious problem taking shape in the Sierra Nevada (but on occasion, it's seriously cute, too.) Nevada Department of Wildlife Conservation Aid Cooper Munson holds two of three black bear cubs captured and safely released on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of NDOWDrought bear cubs. On Wednesday, Nevada Department of ...Read More

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Yosemite Bans Wilderness Campfires

News Fix | July 17, 2014

Yosemite Bans Wilderness Campfires

Half Dome, from Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park. (James Chang/Flickr)Yosemite National Park is banning back-country campfires in an attempt to prevent human-caused fires. The ban will be in effect for wilderness areas below 6,000 feet elevation. The National Park Service says that fires are still allowed in designated campgrounds and ...Read More

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