Current Conditions

Click on the images below to see the full-size version. 

US Drought Monitor (through 5/10/16) Source: NOAA, USDA, and NDMC

US Seasonal Drought Outlook

US Seasonal Drought Outlook (through 7/31/16)  Source: NWS

Southern Sierra Precipitation

San Joaquin Precipitation (5/10/16) Source: DWR


This week in…

Water Conservation Continues, But With a Twist

Update on the California Drought – May 10, 2016

The State Water Resources Control Board (the State Board) recently released a proposal to amend the extended emergency water conservation regulations (adopted February 2, 2016) due to improvements in water supply conditions throughout the state. Significant proposed changes include replacing statewide standards with locally developed conservation targets. Individual urban water suppliers would be required to self-certify that they have sufficient water supplies and to reduce potable water use in a percentage equal to their projected shortfall, assuming three additional years of drought. A technical fact sheet of the proposal can be found here. Public comments are accepted until May 16, and the revised regulations are set for consideration on May 18, 2016.

Meanwhile, water agencies that were fined last October for not meeting mandatory conservation targets have been working with the State Board to come up with an agreement on how those fines will be spent. The Coachella Valley Water District and the Indio Water Authority have reached deals with the State Board to invest the money locally to promote water efficiency programs. The Coachella Valley Water District plans to use its $61,000 fine to start a certification course on water use efficiency for landscape professionals. At the same time, the Indio Water Authority aims to use the fine to support rebate programs and to create a website that will allow customers to see real-time information about their water use, among other conservation efforts. As for the other two agencies that were fined last year, the City of Beverly Hills has paid its fine, while the City of Redlands is still in negotiation for a settlement agreement.


In other news…

— After water conservation efforts slowed in early 2016, statewide conservation improved in March, resulting in 24.3% water reduction compared to the March 2013 water use level.

— The Bureau of Reclamation announced an additional increase in water supply allocation to Class 1 Friant Division contractors from 50% to 65%. The decision was based on improved forecasted hydrologic conditions, commercial power operations in the Upper San Joaquin River Bain, current storage in Millerton Lake, and continued cooler weather demand patterns.

— Citing healthy reservoir levels from recent storms, the East Bay Municipal Water District (EBMUD) board suspended financial penalties for water users that exceed 80 units (59,840 gallons) of water per billing cycle. The agency is considering dropping drought surcharges as well. However, as of May 9, the agency remains under Stage 4 drought (a critical stage), which allows it to enforce a temporary surcharge of up to 25% and an excessive use penalty.

— The US Forest Service estimated that 27.6 million tree deaths in 2015, up from 3.3 million in 2014. Drought and the spread of bark beetles are the main causes of these tree deaths.

The Riverbank City Council is deciding on new rules to ease water conservation and allow people to ask for permission to temporarily ignore watering rules for new plantings, concrete work, or power-washing to prepare for painting. The city adopted tough restrictions earlier in November as it struggled to reach its conservation target of 32%, having saved less than 8% between June 2015 and February 2016.

Modesto is considering raising its water rates by as much as 63% over five years as revenue plummets during the drought. The increased water rate would also help finance infrastructure projects.

Los Angeles water wasters will face tougher fines and water audits under a plan approved by Mayor Eric Garcetti. The City’s amended water conservation plan will fine residents between $1,000 and $40,000 a month for “unreasonable use” of water when the city is in an elevated phase of its emergency drought plan. Currently, fines on wasteful outdoor water use range from $100 to $300, but they will increase to as much as $1,200 under the new plan.

— A new Carmel River water initiative to leave Rancho Cañada golf course irrigation water in the Carmel River will likely cost Monterey-area customers $3 million through 2019. The agreement between California American Water and the Trust for Public Land also involves a conversion of 140 acres of golf course land into parks and open space. The revenue collected from these areas will go towards funding the initiative.

The Public Policy Institute of California’s Statewide Survey shows fewer Californians think that water supply in their part of California is a big problem than in previous surveys. In the recent March survey, 57% expressed drought concerns, compared to 70% in September 2015.

— California’s 2015 almond acreage increased to 1,110,000 acres, up by 6% from 2014, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture and USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service. Preliminary bearing acreage for 2016 is estimated at 900,000 acres.

— The number of Sacramento River fall Chinook salmon that will be available for recreational and commercial ocean salmon fishing is expected to decline from 650,000 in 2015 to roughly 300,000 this year.

— As water levels in Lake Mead continue to drop to historical lows, California, Nevada, and Arizona water officials have been negotiating a cut in water withdrawals from the over-allocated Colorado River. The curtailment plan includes proportional cuts from the three states, although California, as the largest diverter within the Lower Colorado River Basin, may be subject to reduce its 4.4 million acre-feet allocation by 200,000 acre-feet. The Colorado River Compactof 1922 governs water allocation between these southwestern states.

Old Hill Ranch in Sonoma Valley is practicing “dry farming”, a farming method that does not use artificial irrigation, but instead relies on soil preparation to hold on to water for drier months. Under the right conditions, this method will produce grapes that are smaller, but with a better and more intense flavor, according to the ranch’s manager.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture announced $16 million in awards for 129 projects under its State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP), which supports projects that result in on-farm greenhouse gas emissions reductions and water savings.

— CAL FIRE declared May 1-7, 2016, as “Wildfire Awareness Week”, stressing the critical role all Californians play in preparing for the fire season. Earlier in March, the state department hired an additional 400 firefighters to increase
readiness for fire prevention and response.


California Drought Status

Drought Monitor


Drought conditions are improving as many regions transition away from extreme and exceptional drought. As of May 3, some moderate drought was removed in the northwestern-most part of the state.



Despite recent storms, the Sierra snowpack continues to melt at an accelerated rate. The snow-water content was initially on course with an average year. However, it quickly dropped from 70% of normal a month ago to 57% as of May 9. (See these snowpack plots for changes over time).

Cumulative precipitation increased slightly in all regions over the past two weeks. Levels are close to average in the San Joaquin and the Tulare Lake Basin regions and are about eight inches above average in the Northern Sierra region.

Reservoir Conditions


Water levels in California’s major reservoirs (representing 27.3 million acre-feet of storage) slightly decreased from two weeks ago and are now at 65% of statewide capacity and 88% of group average for this date. Levels in Lake Oroville, Shasta, and Folsom are at about 117%, 102%, and 111% of historical average, respectively. However, New Melones, another major reservoir with a 2.4 million acre-feet capacity, is only at 40% of historical average.

Groundwater Conditions

Most recent data on groundwater conditions are based on fall 2015 measurements. Maps of spring and fall groundwater level changes can be found here and a map highlighting significant changes is available here. Areas with the greatest concern, i.e., those areas where groundwater levels have declined by more than 100 feet, can be found in parts of the Tulare Lake, South Coast, and Colorado River hydrologic regions.


Hydroelectric power generation in February 2016 was about 1,500,000 MWh, which is about 73% higher than 2015 but 27% lower than the 2001-2011 February average.


Additional Resources

California Data Exchange Center”, including water supply and drought information summary, by the California Department of Water Resources

One-stop shop” for water data and maps by the NOAA

Groundwater Information Center (GIC) interactive map by the California Department of Water Resources

-Interactive tool of changes in reservoir storage levels since January 2010 by KQED News

River conditions by the California Nevada River Forecast Center

-Interactive map of residential and system-wide water use by the Pacific Institute

-Western Regional Climate Center’s climate anomaly maps and tables for California


Read past updates here.