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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 the severe drought is continuing this year.

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.

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 Put on Hold

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. The rock barriers would have been installed at Sutter and Steamboat sloughs near Courtland and False River near Oakley. It is possible barriers may be needed later if we have another dry winter. For now, however, it appears late-season storms produced enough runoff that the barriers are not needed.

A news release about the allocation and barriers announcement is here.

The fourth snow survey of the season on April 1 when the snowpack normally is at its peak before slowly melting into streams and reservoirs to provide about a third of the water for California cities and farms, dramatically revealed the depth of California’s drought. Snowpack water content on April 1 was a scant 32 percent of the historical seasonal total and has dropped dramatically since then with warming spring weather. On April 21, statewide snowpack water content was only 18 percent of normal for the date.

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