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One of California’s Driest Years Ever

Calendar year 2013 closed as the driest year in recorded history for many areas of California, and the severe drought is continuing this year.

On January 17, Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. declared a drought state of emergency. On April 25, Governor Brown asked all Californians to redouble their efforts to conserve water, instructed agencies to cut red tape to get water to farmers more quickly, ensure that people have safe drinking water, protect vulnerable wildlife species and prepare for an extreme fire season. Read the executive order at http://gov.ca.gov/news.php?id=18496.

The proclamation is available here: http://www.gov.ca.gov/news.php?id=18368.

Water Year 2014 Ends Dry

Water Year 2014 ended on September 30 as one of California’s driest with no promise the water year will be any wetter. As the calendar turns after three years of drought, reservoirs are low, vast tracts of farmland lie fallow and some communities are scrambling for drinking water.

In January, normally California’s wettest month, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. declared a drought emergency and followed up with statewide water conservation goals. On September 19, the Governor streamlined the delivery of water to families in dire need.

DWR has reduced State Water Project deliveries to a record low five percent of requests while the federal Central Valley Project has reduced deliveries down to zero for some junior rights holders.

Forest fires, brown lawns, food banks, groundwater legislation and water management debates all are results of a deepening drought as the winter months approach without a good reading of whether they will be wet or dry.

“The immediate certainty is that day-to-day conservation – wise, sparing use of water – is essential as we face the possibility of a fourth dry winter,” said DWR Director Mark Cowin.

The Water Year (October 1 – September 30) is ending with less than 60 percent of average precipitation. And on September 1, the state’s major reservoirs collectively held only 57 percent of average storage for the date, or about 36 percent of capacity. Cumulative reservoir storage in 1977, to date California’s driest year on record, was approximately five million acre-feet less than today but the state in that year had millions fewer people. Recent storms have been encouraging, but haven’t seriously dented the state’s drought and forecasters can’t accurately predict if we will get the series of major storms required to break the drought.

Predictions El Nino conditions that signal precipitation patterns in some areas of the world have waxed and waned, but meteorologists note that the phenomenon is not a reliable indicator of weather in California, especially not in the Northern Sierra watersheds that feed some of the state’s largest reservoirs.

Even if the storms arrive, conservation will still be essential to counter the years-long drain on the state’s water supply.

DWR and the Association of California Water Agencies urge all Californians to conserve water by following the advice and tips found at http://SaveOurWater.com.

DWR’s California Data Exchange Center websites show current water conditions at the state’s largest reservoirs and weather stations.

Reservoirs: http://cdec.water.ca.gov/reservoir.html
Precipitation: http://cdec.water.ca.gov/snow_rain.html

Historic Groundwater Legislation Becomes Law

As California's drought deepens, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. on September 16 signed historic legislation to ensure a sustainable supply of California groundwater. The three-year drought has increased groundwater extraction in many regions of the state and led to over-drafting and water shortages in some communities. The new law mandates the creation of local groundwater management agencies that will monitor extraction and create sustainability plans that must be in place in 20 years. DWR is given expanded responsibilities under the law, including requirements to revise groundwater basin boundaries and create guidelines for local agencies to write their Sustainable Groundwater Management Plans. More on the historic legislation here: http://gov.ca.gov/news.php?id=18701

Water Deliveries Slightly Boosted

There was a bit of good news on April 18 as the Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced an increase from 0 to 5 percent in the State Water Project allocation (water delivery estimate) for the remainder of the year. If it stands, this will be the lowest SWP (SWP) allocation since deliveries began in the 1960s. The allocation -- changed or unchanged – will be finalized later this spring. Also on April 18, the federal Bureau of Reclamation announced that senior water rights holders in the Sacramento Valley would receive 75 percent rather than 40 percent of contracted water supplies this year.

Drought Barriers Cancelled for 2014

February and March storms that slightly boosted water deliveries also eliminated the immediate need for salinity barriers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to control saltwater intrusion from San Francisco Bay, as described in this April 18 news release. The rock barriers would have been installed at Sutter and Steamboat sloughs near Courtland and False River near Oakley. DWR continued to assess water supply and demand in the weeks following the April 18 announcement and concluded in late May that the barriers will not be needed in 2014. Planning and permitting will continue for the barriers’ possible installation in 2015 if drought conditions persist into a fourth consecutive dry year.

The fifth and final snow survey of the season on May 1 recorded manual and electronic readings of the statewide snowpack’s water content – which normally provides about a third of the water for California’s farms and cities – at a mere 18 percent of average for the date. By late May, the Sierra snowpack’s water equivalent statewide had decreased to almost zero.

When Governor Brown declared a drought State of Emergency in January, he directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages. CAL FIRE recently announced it hired 125 additional firefighters to help address the increased fire threat due to drought conditions, the California Department of Public Health identified and offered assistance to communities at risk of severe drinking water shortages and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife restricted fishing on some waterways due to low water flows worsened by the drought. Also in January, the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Food and Agriculture also released the California Water Action Plan, which will guide state efforts to enhance water supply reliability, restore damaged and destroyed ecosystems and improve the resilience of our infrastructure.

Governor Brown has called on all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 20 percent and the Save Our Water campaign has announced four new public service announcements that encourage residents to conserve. Last December, the Governor formed a Drought Task Force to review expected water allocations and California’s preparedness for water scarcity. In May 2013, Governor Brown issued an Executive Order to direct state water officials to expedite the review and processing of voluntary transfers of water.

For more information on drought, see http://www.water.ca.gov/waterconditions/droughtinfo.cfm.

WRCC climate region dry years

 Current Water Conditions