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Update on the California Drought: : August 16 – 29, 2016
From the Pacific Institute’s California Drought Response Team
High Wildfire Danger This Season
Average global temperature in July 2016 was nearly 1.57 degrees above the 20th century average, beating the previous July record set in 2015. Dry and unstable weather conditions are contributing to a rapid increase in wildfire activity throughout California. As of August 29, there were 13 active wildfires, which had collectively burned over 260,000 acres.
The Chimney Fire in San Luis Obispo County grew by 10,000 acres in just over two days. To date, the fire has burned a total of 40,000 acres and is threatening to destroy the Hearst Castle, a state historical monument in San Simeon. The Soberanes Fire, which was started by an illegal campfire, has burned over 92,000 acres of wilderness and forest areas in Big Sur and nearby regions, making it the largest active wildfire in the state. Evacuation warnings are in effect, and nearby state parks remain closed.
Since the beginning of this year, wildfires have burned over 400,000 acres statewide. Click here to view CAL FIRE’s map of major wildfires in California.
In Other News
- The State Water Resources Control Board has authorized a zero-percent water conservation target for 337 out of 379 water service providers (or 89%) that have submitted their “stress test” results to the Board, following the new guidelines in the Board’s Emergency Conservation Regulation. About 36 water suppliers indicated that they would face a supply shortage if the drought continues and are required to set their targets equivalent to the shortfall. Informational orders were given to eight water suppliers whose submissions were incomplete, unclear, or who appeared to have not followed instructions properly.
Despite the relaxed targets, certain restrictions remain in effect, such as prohibitions against using potable water to hose off sidewalks and driveways and using hoses without a shut-off nozzle to wash automobiles.
- The East Porterville Water Supply Project – a joint effort by the Department of Water Resources, the State Water Resources Control Board, and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services – has connected the first 70 homes in East Porterville to the nearby city of Porterville’s water distribution system. East Porterville residents have relied on private domestic wells for drinking water and other uses, but the drought has caused wells to run dry or become undrinkable. As many as 1,800 homes are expected to be connected by the end of 2017.Eligible East Porterville residents who participate in the project and agree to have their property annexed by the city of Porterville will bear no connection costs, which are estimated to be at least $5,000 per connection. Once connected, property owners will be billed monthly for their water service.
- The California Water Quality Monitoring Council, consisting of the California Environmental Protection Agency, the California Natural Resources Agency, the State Water Board’s Drinking Water Program, and other relevant agencies, has recently released a new tool to track harmful algal blooms across the state. The California Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) Portal provides timely information on reported sightings of the potentially toxic blue-green algal blooms and affected water bodies.
- Some Northern California communities, especially those reliant on a single source of surface water, are facing water shortages. For example, Paskenta, a community in Tehama County, hauled water from 20 miles away in 2014 when water levels in its creeks were too low to pump. This year, it was authorized to collect and transport up to 20,000 gallons of water daily at a cost of $5 per 1,000 gallons.
- The US Bureau of Reclamation’s August analysis of the basin’s hydrology projected that the water level in Lake Mead in January 2019 will be only a few feet above the level of 1,075-feet that would trigger water delivery curtailments on the Colorado River.
- The Board of Los Angeles Water and Power Commissioners voted to incorporate a watershed approach into their turf rebate program. In addition to limiting the use of synthetic turf and promoting native and/or climate-appropriate plants, the program also requires the use of infiltration and stormwater capture techniques, such as rain gardens and rain barrels.
California Drought Status
There has been no change to the drought conditions over the past two weeks. Severe-to-exceptional drought extends across 43% of the state, while moderate-to-severe drought extends across an additional 41% of the state.
The NOAA’s August forecast suggests that the chance of La Niña occurring is 55% to 60% during the fall and winter of 2016-17. This is a decrease from the May forecast of 75%.
Cumulative precipitation since the beginning of the water year (Oct. 1) has remained the same at near average (40 inches) in the San Joaquin River Basin, above average (57.8 inches) in the Northern Sierra region, and below average (25.8 inches) in the Tulare Lake Basin.
Water levels in California’s major reservoirs (representing 27.3 million acre-feet of storage) have fallen by 2% over the past two weeks, and reservoirs are at 78% of the reported average for this time of year and 48% of the statewide capacity. Conditions in particular reservoirs vary across the state, with reservoirs in the north of the state doing better than those further south. For example:
- The water level at Lake Shasta is at 109% of the historical average. Lake Oroville and Folsom Lake are at 80% and 57% of the historical average, respectively.
- The water level at the New Melones Reservoir, another major reservoir with a 2.4 million acre-feet capacity, has dropped slightly from 40% to 39% of the historical average.
- The water level at the San Luis Reservoir hit its lowest level in 27 years in mid-August, and now stands at 34% of the historical average for this date.
- Lake Cachuma, which supplies water to the city of Santa Barbara and other urban areas in Southern California, dropped to only 7% of its capacity, or 10% of the historical average.
Since the beginning of 2016, 5,275 wildfires have burned about 413,487 acres across the state. Notably, the Soberanes Fire in the Big Sur region, the Blue Cut Fire in the San Bernardino National Forest, and the Rey Fire in the Los Padres National Forest have collectively burned about 160,000 acres.
Hydroelectric power generation in June 2016 was about 3,300,000 MWh, more than doubling last year’s June production of 1,500,000 MWh. However, hydropower generation is still 15% less than the 2001-2011 average for the same month.
The most recent data on groundwater conditions are based on measurements taken in spring 2016. Maps of spring and fall groundwater level changes can be found here. Parts of the Tulare Lake, the South Coast, and the Colorado River hydrologic regions have experienced groundwater declines in excess of 100 feet.
Read past updates here.