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Driest Year on Record?

Calendar year 2013 closed as the driest year in recorded history for many areas of California, and current conditions suggest no change in sight for 2014.

On January 17, Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr. declared a drought state of emergency and directed state officials to take all necessary actions in response.

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

On January 31, the Department of Water Resources announced several actions to protect Californians’ health and safety from more severe water shortages. Those actions include dropping the anticipated allocation of water to customers of the State Water Project from 5 percent to zero; notifying long-time water rights holders in the Sacramento Valley that they may cut be 50 percent, depending upon future snow survey results; and asking the State Water Resources Control Board to adjust requirements that hinder conservation of currently stored water.

This marks the first zero allocation announcement for all customers of the State Water Project (SWP) in the 54-year history of the project. Twenty-nine public water agencies buy water from the SWP for delivery to 25 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland.

A news release about the announcement is available here and here.

The fourth snow survey of the season on April 1 revealed a continuation of California’s precipitation deficit during the state’s third consecutive dry water year (October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014). The press release announcing the survey results is available here.The water equivalent of the statewide snowpack has increased about 7.2 inches since the season’s first survey on January 3, but the new reading of 9.2 inches is only 32 percent of the average April 1 measurement when the snowpack normally is at its peak before the spring melt. Although Northern California precipitation in March was above the monthly average, the drought continues. Since it is difficult to quantify an exact amount of precipitation that would alleviate the current drought conditions, it is highly unlikely given historic patterns of the remainder of the rainy season that the drought will end this water year. There just isn’t enough time for precipitation to accumulate at an acceptable rate to alleviate drought conditions or the anticipated impacts to drought-stricken communities.

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