‘Running out of Options’: California Resorts to Water Cutoffs as Drought Worsens

California water regulators took unprecedented action this week, passing an emergency regulation that will bar thousands of Californians from diverting stream and river water as the drought worsens.

The State Water Resources Control Board voted unanimously Tuesday to pass the “emergency curtailment” order for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed. The watershed encompasses a wide swath of the state, from the Oregon border in northeastern California down into the Central Valley.

Stunning Drone Photos Show Severity of Drought at Lake Shasta

Droughts are common in California, but this year’s is much hotter and drier than others, evaporating water more quickly from the reservoirs and the sparse Sierra Nevada snowpack that feeds them.

The state’s more than 1,500 reservoirs are 50% lower than they should be this time of year, according to Jay Lund, co-director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis.

Drought and the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, 2012–2016: Environmental Review and Lessons

Droughts are common in California. The drought of 2012-2016 had no less precipitation and was no longer than previous historical droughts (Figure 1), but came with record high temperatures (Figure 2) and low snowpack (Figure 3), which worsened many drought impacts. Water supplies for agriculture and urban users statewide struggled to meet water demands. Conservation and rationing, increased groundwater pumping and a diversified economy helped keep California’s economy robust in most sectors. The drought degraded environmental conditions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta as the region became saltier and warmer, invasive weeds spread, and iconic fishes like salmon and Delta smelt had strong declines.

Drought In California Seems Inevitable. But Experts Say Don’t Panic

Some communities in California just experienced the driest February ever, and there’s around an 80 percent chance the state will enter a full-blown drought this year.

If that happens, it could be the third-driest year in over a century, according to modeling by the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis.

But even though around a quarter of California is undergoing moderate drought conditions experts say it’s too early to panic — they say a second year of drought is where things get dicey.

“The first year of a drought is really mostly a wake-up call,” said Jay Lund, the center’s director. “It will be prudent, if this turns out to be a dry year, for us to prepare for it to be a longer drought.”

Is it Drought Yet? Dry October-November 2019

So far, October and November 2019 has been the driest (or almost the driest) beginning of any recorded water year with almost zero precipitation. (The 2020 water year began October 1, 2019 – so you might have missed a New Year’s party already.)

Should we worry about a drought yet?