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  • California drought news
    Latest California Drought News
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    Understanding California's Drought
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California drought news


California's April 1 snow survey revealed the lowest snowpack measurement ever recorded – just 5% of average for the date – underscoring the fact that the state is in its fourth year of historic drought and record-warm temperatures.

Water agencies around the state are on the front lines in meeting the state's conservation targets.

Learn about the drought status in your area and your local water agency's policies by clicking on the dots below:

Drought status data is provided by Association of California Water Agencies   
  Mandatory Restrictions   Voluntary Measures   Agricultural Reductions   Other actions   Drought Emergency / Water Shortage Declared

Final Public Comment on Key Draft Groundwater Regulations

August 31, 2015 — Historic legislation enacted by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. last year empowers local agencies to bring groundwater basins into sustainable patterns of pumping and recharge. The Department of Water Resources (DWR) will hold three public meetings this week to solicit final public review and comment on the draft regulations that establish a process for local agencies to follow should they seek to modify the boundaries of a groundwater basin. The public comment period began July 17, 2015, and continues through September 4, 2015.

California Water Use Drops 31.3 percent

August 27, 2015 — Despite continued hot conditions, Californians surpassed June’s conservation rate and reduced water use by 31.3 percent during July, exceeding Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.’s 25 percent mandate for a second consecutive month since the new emergency conservation regulation took effect. For June and July, the cumulative statewide savings was 29.5 percent. Saving water in the hot summer months is critical to meeting the State’s overall 25 percent savings goal through February 2016, as the summer is when the greatest amount of water is traditionally used, particularly on outdoor ornamental landscapes. State officials urged residential water users to keep up their efforts to conserve.

New Site Provides Data on Household Water Shortages

August 21, 2015 — As the drought developed, local and state agencies started receiving anecdotal reports of household water shortages; however, there was no means to record or track these reports.

In early 2014, the Governor’s Drought Task Force created a “Less than 15 Connections Work Group” (Work Group). This cross-agency Work Group agreed that an easily accessed system was needed to develop a more systematic understanding of which parts of the state had households at risk and to improve cross-agency response and coordination. With the help of the Work Group, the Department of Water Resources has created a new system that improves and streamlines data collection and reporting for household water shortages for water systems with fewer than 15 household connections.

The Household Water Supply Shortage Reporting System’s webpage provides summary tables, a map, and more information about the program.

NASA Report: Drought Causing Valley Land to Sink

August 19, 2015 — As Californians continue pumping groundwater in response to the historic drought, the Department of Water Resources today released a new NASA report showing land in the San Joaquin Valley is sinking faster than ever before, nearly two inches per month in some locations.

Do Not Count on El Niño to End Drought

August 13, 2015 — State Climatologist Michael Anderson issued the following statement: “California cannot count on potential El Niño conditions to halt or reverse drought conditions. Historical weather data shows us that at best, there is a 50/50 chance of having a wetter winter. Unfortunately, due to shifting climate patterns, we cannot even be that sure.

As California heads into a new water year (October 1 to September 30) with a potential fifth year of drought and expectations of El Niño impacts in play during the winter, questions mount on what can be expected of winter temperatures, precipitation and snowpack for California.

Unfortunately, a historical look at past years with similar El Niño conditions as currently forecasted provide little guidance as to what California might expect this winter. Of the seven years since 1950 with similar ENSO signals (1958, 1966, 1973, 1983, 1988, 1992, and 1998) three were wet years, one was average and three were dry (with water year 1992 perpetuating a drought). Past years were cooler than the temperatures we are experiencing now which will impact the rain/snow boundary for any storms that materialize this winter.

$30 Million in Rebates Available to Help Replace Old Toilets and Turf

August 12, 2015 — Two new rebate programs can help Californians replace inefficient toilets and tear out water-guzzling lawns, further conserving water during the state’s historic drought. The “turf and toilet” rebate program is financed by the Proposition 1 water bond approved by voters in 2014. The program will help carry out Governor Brown’s April 1 Executive Order on drought to further reduce water use in homes by replacing more than 10 million square-feet of lawn and upgrading more than 60,000 water-wasting toilets. DWR will oversee the two rebate programs, which provide a $100 consumer rebate to replace one old toilet per household and up to $2 per square foot for lawn replacement. Californians can visit to apply for the rebates.

How the california Drought evolved

California Drought Map

Defining Drought

Defining when drought occurs is a function of drought impacts to water users. Drought can best be thought of as a condition of water shortage for a particular user in a particular location. Hydrologic conditions constituting a drought for water users in one location may not constitute a drought for water users in a different part of California or for users with a different water supply. Individual water suppliers may use criteria such as rainfall/runoff, amount of water in storage, or expected supply from a water wholesaler to define their water supply conditions.

Drought is a gradual phenomenon. Although persistent drought may be characterized as an emergency, it differs from typical emergency events. Most natural disasters, such as floods or forest fires, occur relatively rapidly and afford little time for preparing for disaster response. Droughts occur slowly, over a period of time. There is no universal definition of when a drought begins or ends. Impacts of drought are typically felt first by those most reliant on annual rainfall -- ranchers engaged in dryland grazing, rural residents relying on wells in low-yield rock formations, or small water systems lacking a reliable water source. Criteria used to identify statewide drought conditions do not address these localized impacts. Drought impacts increase with the length of a drought, as carry-over supplies in reservoirs are depleted and water levels in groundwater basins decline.

Climate Variability

California's climate is highly variable both spatially (from temperate rain forest conditions on the North Coast to the extreme aridity of Death Valley) and temporally. Records for maximum annual precipitation range from more than 90 inches on the North Coast to a little over 2 inches in Death Valley. Droughts and floods can occur in close proximity. For example, the flooding of 1986 was followed by six years of drought (1987-92). At the beginning of the state's historical record the so-called "Noachian" floods of winter 1861-62 were followed by two severely dry years, a combination became the death knell for much of the cattle rancho economy.

Measurements of California water conditions cover only a small slice of the past. Widespread collection of rainfall and streamflow information began around the turn of the 20th century. During our period of recorded hydrology, the most significant statewide droughts occurred during 1928-34, 1976-77, 1987-92, and 2007-09. The last significant regional drought occurred in parts of Southern California in 1999-2002. Historical data combined with estimates created from indirect indicators such as tree rings suggest that the 1928-34 event may have been the driest period in the Sacramento River watershed since about the mid-1550s.

Drought and Precipitation

Most of California’s precipitation (rain and snow) comes from storms moving across the Pacific Ocean. The path followed by the storms is determined by the position of an atmospheric high pressure belt that normally shifts southward during the winter months, allowing low pressure zones to move into the state. On average, 75 percent of California's annual precipitation occurs from November through March, with 50 percent occurring from December through February. California's average precipitation is dependent on a relatively small number of storms; a few storms more or less during the winter season can determine if the year will be wet or dry. If a persistent Pacific high pressure zone remains over California in mid-winter, there is a tendency for the year to be dry.

Drought and Groundwater

In an average year, about 30 percent of California's urban and agricultural water supplies come from groundwater. Reliance on groundwater increases during droughts due to reduced availability of surface water. During the six-year 1987-92 drought the total number of well driller reports filed with the Department were in the range of 25,000 wells per year for several years, up from fewer than 15,000 reports per year prior to the drought. Most of the new wells were for private residential use.

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