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Drought Updates

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Updates on Drought Conditions

This section includes briefings on key drought-related news items and reservoir, snowpack and precipitation updates from the U.S. Drought Monitor and California Department of Water Resources among other sources.

UCCHM California Drought Watch

U.S. Drought Monitor | May 20, 2014 - One hundred percent of the state of California still remains in at least categorically 'severe' drought.

U.S. Drought Monitor | May 15, 2014 - For the first time this century, the entire state of California is in categorically 'severe' drought. More than two-thirds of the state remains in 'extreme' to 'exceptional' drought--one-fourth of the state in the latter category.

U.S. Drought Monitor | May 6, 2014 - 100% of the state is still experiencing 'moderate' to 'exceptional' drought. 

Snowpack & Reservoirs | May 2, 2014 - Yesterday, the California Department of Water resources conducted its final snowpack survey of the season. The results were concerning to say the least, as the snowpack is a dismal 18% of the average readings. Looking at the Northern snowpack (see Snow Water Equivalents figure below), the readings are only 7% of what is considered normal for this date. 

Reservoir storage readings continue to be well below average. Lake Oroville, the main storage source for the State Water Project, is operating at just 53% capacity, which is 65% of the historical average. Lake Shasta, the state's largest reservoir and part of the Central Valley Water Project, is also operating at 53% capacity, which is 61% of 'normal' for this date. See figure below for more information.

U.S. Drought Monitor | May 1, 2014 - 100% of California is stil experiencing drought conditions, ranging from 'moderate' to 'exceptional' drought. Approx. 96% of the state is experiencing 'severe' to 'exceptional' drought, 76% 'extreme' to 'exceptional' drought, and 24% 'exceptional' drought.

U.S. Drought Monitor | April 24, 2014 - 100% of the state is experiencing categorically 'moderate' to 'exceptional' drought.

Water Allocations | April 23, 2014 - The State Water Project will raise allocations for California communities to 5% after February and March storms in Northern California. Unfortunately, this slight increase in allocations won't do much for California residents, as 5% is still the lowest on state record for urban agencies. The allocations were originally set to a historical zero back in January after the Governor's emergency drought declaration. "This is all a bit of good news in an otherwise very bleak water year," state water resources director Mark Cowin said. Read the full Los Angeles Times article HERE

Reservoirs | April 22, 2014 - Reservoir conditions show general slight decreases. On average, levels remain below historical averages. 

Snowpack | April 22, 2014 - For snowpack data from April 21st. Snowpack drops signifcantly to 15% of April 1st average, from last week's measurement of 25% of April 1st average. 

U.S. Drought Monitor | April 16, 2014 - No significant changes since last week. 

Reservoirs | April 14, 2014 - All reservoirs still operating below capacity, and most below historical levels. 

Snowpack | April 14, 2014 - Statewide percentage drops to 25% of the April 1st average. This represents snowpack decreases in the Northern and Southern Sierra, and a slight increase in the Central Sierra. 

U.S. Drought Monitor | April 9, 2014 - No significant changes since last week. 

Reservoirs | April 7, 2014 - Slight improvments in overall reservoir storage (specifically in Northern California), but levels remain below average.

Snowpack | April 7, 2014 - Slight improvements in Northern, Central and Southern Sierra snowpacks. However, snowpack still remains well below average.

U.S. Drought Monitor | April 3, 2014 - More than two-thirds of the state still experiencing 'extreme' to 'exceptional' drought conditions. 23.49% (compared to 23.42%) of California is in categorically 'exceptional' drought (concentrated in the Central Valley region). 

Reservoirs | April 1, 2014 - Northern reservoirs see slight improvements as the result of rain/snowfall. 

Snowpack | April 1, 2014 - Rain and snowfall throughout the state bring slight improvements in snowpack. Statewide average snowpack up to 32% of the normal April 1st average, which is still well below normal.

U.S. Drought Monitor | March 27, 2014 - Update from the U.S. Drought Monitor for March 25th. This week, the majority (71.78%) of the state still remains in 'extreme' to 'exceptional' drought--23.42% of the state in categorically 'exceptional' drought conditions (mostly throughout Central California). 

Reservoirs | March 24, 2014 - From the California Department of Water Resources. Several reservoirs in Northern California show slight improvements, while Southern California reservoirs show slight declines--Shasta Reservoir (up 1%), Lake Oroville (up 1%), Folsom Lake (up 1%), San Luis Reservoir (up 2%), Millerton Lake (down 1%), Pyramid Lake (down 4%), and Castaic Lake (down 3%).

Snowpack | March 24, 2014 - From the California Department of Water Resources. Statewide snowpack is 24% of April 1st average (down 3% from last week). Snowpack in Northern Sierra is 14% of April 1st averages (down 3% from last week); snowpack in Central Sierra is 30% (down 2% from last week); snowpack in Southern Sierra is 25% (down 4% from last week). 

U.S. Drought Monitor | March 20, 2014 - Update from the U.S. Drought Monitor for March 18, 2014. 71.78% of the state remains in 'extreme' to 'exceptional' drought. 

Crop Production & Grocery Prices | March 18, 2014 - Today, The Wall Street Journal released an article estimating that retail food prices will increase by as much as 3.5% in 2014. This marks "the biggest annual increase in three years, as drought in parts of the U.S. and other producing regions drives up prices for many agricultural goods." Droughts in California, Texas and Brazil are all contributing to this increase in crop prices. 

Find the full WSJ article HERE.

Reservoirs | March 17, 2014 - From the California Department of Water Resources. 

Snowpack | March 17, 2014 - From the California Department of Water Resources. Statewide average down 1% from last week, as snow surveys in Northern, Central and Southern Sierra show slight decreases in snowpack across all three regions. 

U.S. Drought Monitor | March 13, 2014 - From the U.S. Drought Monitor. Mostly similar to statistics from last week. Only difference being the 0.01% of the state that is in categorically 'none,' meaning this area is not experiencing a drought.

Crop Production & Grocery Prices | March 11, 2014 - The California drought shows no signs of letting up anytime soon. As it progresses, other regions of the country will begin to feel the effects of California's drought. “California is the nation’s Salad Bowl,” meaning nearly half of the vegetables, fruits and nuts consumed in the United States come from California. 

From the Associated Press, read the full article HERE:

"You are going to see price increases in produce like broccoli and cauliflower and other produce that California grows a lot of," he said. "Milk is California's largest commodity. And they have the largest cattle herd in the nation. Depending on how bad the drought is this year, you could see anywhere from less than 1 percent to a 10 percent increase in some of the commodities California produces."

Another article on this topic from March 12th can be found in the San Jose Mercury News, HERE:

"While it's too early to tell precisely how much the drought will push up household grocery bills, economists say consuers can expect to pay more for food later this year because fewer acres of land are being planted and crop yeields are shrinking."

Reservoirs | March 10, 2014 - From the California Department of Water Resources. Most reservoirs show slight improvements from last week (all except Pyramid Lake with a 1% level decrease). All reservoirs are still operating at below capacity and below historical averages (with the exeptions of Pyramid Lake and Castaic Lake). 

Snowpack | March 10, 2014 - From the California Department of Water Resources. Slight decreases from last week's snow survey (March 4, 2014). Statewide average drops 2% this week to 28% snowpack of April 1 average.

U.S. Drought Monitor | March 6, 2014 - Categorically 'exceptional' drought is slightly down from last week, covering 22.37% of California (compared to 26.21% on February 25th). Approximately two-thirds of the state still remain in categorically 'extreme to exceptional' drought. 

Crop Production | March 5, 2014 - Chipotle may suspend certain items from its menu, as climate change continues to make particular ingredients less available and more expensive. To collective dismay, guacamole might be first to get cut. 

From the ThinkProgress article, "Chipotle Warns It Might Stop Serving Guacamole If Climate Change Gets Worse" - Read the full article HERE:

"The guacamole operation at Chipotle is massive. The company uses, on average, 97,000 pounds of avocade every day to make its guac -- which adds up to 35.4 million pounds of avocados every year. And while the avocado industry is fine at the moment, scientists are anticipating drier conditions due to climate change, which may have negative effects on California's crop. Scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, for example, predict hotter temps will cause a 40 percent drop in California's avocado production over the next 32 years."

Reservoirs | March 4, 2014 - From the California Department of Water Resources. After the storms this weekend, most reservoirs are still operating at below capacity and below historical averages. 

Snowpack | March 4, 2014 - From the California Department of Water Resources. Sierra snowpack conditions have improved as a result of the series of storms the state experienced over the weekend. As seen in the image below for March 4, 2014, snowpack levels in Northern (22% of normal), Central (39%) and Southern Sierra (36%) are all well below what is considered 'normal' for this date. The total Sierra snowpack is 33% of normal for this date, or one-third of what the snowpack should be. For comparison, see the second image below for snowpack conditions on February 4, 2014.

March 4, 2014:


February 4, 2014:

Precipitation | March 3, 2014 - In response to the rain experienced throughout the state of California this weekend (February 27th-March 2nd), the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling would like to issue the following statement:

Atmospheric river rain over this past weekend offered a bit of relief from this epic drought. However, California is still deep in the drought trenches and will continue to be for some time. Storms like this one have a narrow scope of impact, and a 'normal' winter might consist of six to seven of these atmospheric river storms. This is the first one of this winter. Simply, it is far too late in the winter season to think we're going to make it out of this drought anytime soon.

UCCHM research shows a deficit of 25 km3--nearly the volume of Lake Mead. You cannot fill Lake Mead in one weekend. In fact, it would take approximately a storm like this one we just experienced every week from now until the end of the water year (in May) to make a dent in the drought emergency. For any long-term drought recovery, this pattern would have to persist for the next 5 years. This single storm will help surface water and reservoir conditions throughout the state. However, it will take years to make up the deficit that has formed.


Figure 1. From UCCHM Water Advisory 1: Water Storage Changes in California. Groundwater loss in the Central Valley, CA since 1962.

Groundwater has been used to offset reductions in surface water allocations during dry years, but it is never fully replenished (leading to the deficits seen in Figure 1). Groundwater replenishment is vital for California’s water security, and years of gradual depletion of these resources has left a huge hole that needs to be filled.

Figure 2. U.S. Drought Monitor, California update for February 25, 2014.

Despite rain here and there, the drought rages on with the majority of the state in ‘extreme’ or ‘exceptional’ drought (Figure 2). This is a long-term drought in need of long-term solutions. A recovery will not happen overnight.

U.S. Drought Monitor | February 25, 2014 - Categorically 'exceptional' drought now covers 26.91% of California (centered mainly in the Central Valley), a significant increase from last week's reading of 14.62%.