2015 Drought Watch In California
Despite an uptick in precipitation and a slight boost in reservoir storage in December 2014, top California water officials say the state is now in a fourth year of drought that will pose ongoing challenges for water managers, crop growers including almond growers, and Beekeepers in 2015.
California experienced some strong storms in early December, but has not seen a major precipitation event since then. The Sierra snowpack, which typically provides about 30% of the state’s water when it melts in the spring, was at about one-third of average for the date as of Jan. 15, 2015.
According to the U.S. Drought monitor, 39% of California was in “exceptional drought” on Jan. 13, while 78% was in “extreme drought” and 95% remained in “severe drought.”
To prepare for potential operational challenges as drought conditions evolve, state and federal agencies submitted a drought contingency plan to the State Water Resources Control Board in mid-January. The plan outlines possible modifications to water quality rules and water rights permits that may be needed as dry conditions continue.
Consecutive Dry Years
The 2014 water year (Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014) was one of the driest in decades and followed two consecutive dry years throughout the state. Taken together, the 2012, 2013 and 2014 water years are now the driest three-year period in California’s recorded history.
The dry years have left millions of acre-feet of empty space in reservoirs across California. That space cannot be filled by several typical winter storms or even a particularly powerful storm. Groundwater basins also are stressed, with many areas relying heavily on water in underground aquifers to make up for the lack of surface water supplies in 2014.
State water officials say they will continue to apply lessons learned in 2014 and emphasize interagency coordination as they manage through a dry 2015.
Conservation a Priority
Water conservation will remain a priority, and local water agencies will continue to comply with emergency statewide urban water conservation regulations adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board in July 2014. The regulations prohibit certain outdoor water-wasting activities and require water agencies to implement mandatory outdoor water use restrictions as part of their water shortage contingency plans. The regulations also require water agencies to report monthly water production data and provide an estimate of per capita water use each month in their service areas.
Data reported by local agencies shows that Californians have made considerable strides in water conservation, with urban residents using nearly 20% less water in November 2014 than they did in the same month the previous year.
As of Jan. 15, at least 257 local water agencies have implemented some form of mandatory restrictions / conservation in response to the drought and emergency regulations adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board in July.
The governor declared a drought emergency for the state Jan. 17, and issued a subsequent executive order on April 25 to strengthen the state’s ability to manage water effectively and urge Californians to redouble their water conservation efforts.
On July 15, the State Water Resources Control Board passed emergency regulations that prohibit certain outdoor water uses and require water agencies to file monthly reports on water use and production. Find the latest fact sheet on the state regulations here.
Save Our Water — a partnership between ACWA and the California Department of Water Resources — is in high gear to reach out to consumers with information on reducing household water use, both indoors and outdoors.
Association of California Waterways