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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
Who's using the most -- and the least water? The numbers are in -- but officials warn that they can be misleading.
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.
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.
A new statewide poll reveals a virtual tie between water and jobs atop the most-pressing-issues list.
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?
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?
Only 1924 and 1977 were drier. And there's little in the long-range forecasts to suggest a rebound soon.
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.
Water worries persist -- and may be driving support for a multi-billion-dollar water bond.