[The April 13, 2017, post adds to and updates information posted in February 2014, July 2014, and May 2015.]
It’s an event of national significance when persistent and severe drought afflicts California, the nation’s third largest state in land area and largest in population (with over 37 million people as of the 2010 Census), and the source of over $44 billion worth of agricultural products in 2012, about 11 percent of total U.S. cash farm receipts that year (according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, at, 2/28/14).
In April 2017, California officially emerged from a multi-year drought, with the April 7, 2017, executive order by Gov. Jerry Brown ending the state of emergency across California that he imposed in January 2014, except for four counties. In its April 11, 2017, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s U.S. Drought Monitor categorized about eight percent of the Golden State in “moderate drought” and about one percent in “severe drought.” At the height of the drought in summer 2014, 100 percent of the state was categorized in severe drought, and 80 percent of the state was categorized in the worse categories of “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. Here’s a description of conditions in California according to the comment section of the Drought Monitor’s April 11 report: “Recent stats for California (taken from the California-Nevada Drought Monitor Discussion Call) show an incredible year for precipitation and runoff. In the Sacramento area, the precipitation percentages since October 1, 2016 range from 120-percent to 300-percent or more of normal. The Northern Sierra 8-station index is at 205-percent of normal, only 0.8-inch away from the 1982-83 El Nino record, and the Central Sierra 6-station index is at 195-percent of normal. Snowpack is equally impressive at 157-percent and 180-percent of normal for this date in the Northern and Central Sierra, respectively. The Sierra reservoirs have made an amazing recovery this winter, with all the reservoirs at or just above their Top of Conservation levels.”
Following is information previously added to this post, maintained here for readers interested in the course of the exceptionally severe drought that fortunately finally ended for California in spring 2017.
As of the June 9, 2015, edition of the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (online at http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/), almost 94 percent of California was categorized as being in “severe,” “extreme,” or “exceptional” drought (the Drought Monitor’s three driest categories, out of five). Over 90 percent of the state has been in these categories since February 2014, with 100 percent of the state so rated during much of summer 2014. And as far back as June 2013, over 50 percent of the state was in the severe-or-worse categories.
The following comments in the July 15, 2014, edition of the Drought Monitor add some more perspective on the current California drought:
“…With June  in the books, NCDC [National Climatic Data Center; online at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/] rankings for California for the July 2013-June 2014 period were the warmest and 3rd driest since 1895. The only drier July-June periods were in 1923-24 and 1976-77. This is the first time California experienced 3 consecutive years in the top 20 for dryness: 2011-12 ranked 20th, 2012-13 ranked 18th, and statewide precipitation has averaged 67% of normal during this 3-year period, and was just 56% of normal in 2013-14. Fortunately California’s reservoirs hold more water than they did in 1977 when the state experienced its 4th and 2nd driest years on record from July 1975-June 1977. However, a recent study estimated that this drought will cost California $2.2 billion in 2014, with a loss of over 17,000 agricultural jobs.”
On July 16, 2014, the California Water Resources Control Board announced that mandatory restrictions on residential water use would begin August 1, with violators subject to fines of $500 per day. Then, on May 5, 2015, the Board adopted emergency regulations requiring an immediate 25-percent reduction in overall water use across the state. An Executive Order by Gov. Jerry Brown on April 1, 2015, had ordered the Board to adopt such regulations. On June 12, 2015, the Board announced a rare cut in the water that will be allowed for farmers and other senior water rights holders (those with rights dating from 1903 or later) in the state’s Central Valley, including the Sacramento River watershed, San Joaquin River watershed, and the Delta (the area where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers merge and flow to San Francisco Bay). For more information on the state’s water-conservation regulations, please see this link: Emergency Regulations Development to Achieve 25% Conservation. For press releases from the Board, see http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/press_room/press_releases/.
Other Information Sources on the California Drought
KQED Public Media for San Francisco, “What is the California’s Delta?” This is a 4 min./3 second video (produced in 2012) on California’s water supply and the key role played by the Delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers in northern California. Online at https://ww2.kqed.org/quest/2012/05/04/what-is-california%e2%80%99s-delta/.
California Department of Water Resources, online at http://www.water.ca.gov/; phone: (916) 653-5791.
California Institute for Water Resources/University of California-Davis, online at http://ciwr.ucanr.edu/, phone: (510) 987-9124. (For drought-information resources, see http://ciwr.ucanr.edu/California_Drought_Expertise/.)
California State Water Resources Control Board, online at http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/; (916) 341-5254.
Los Angeles Times, “California Drought,” online at http://www.latimes.com/local/drought/.
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) California Water Science Center, Sacramento, online at http://ca.water.usgs.gov/; phone: (916) 278-3000.
PBS “NewsHour” reports:
*February 14, 2014, “California’s historic drought strains towns and farms in Sonoma County,” online at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/california-historic-drought-strains-towns-farms-sonoma-county/ (8 min./4 sec.).
*July 16, 2014, “California’s ‘water cop’ urges residents to take drought seriously with mandatory restrictions,” online at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/californias-water-cop-urges-residents-take-drought-seriously-mandatory-restrictions/ (9 min./38 sec.).
*May 6, 2015, “Will water-wasting penalties help California conserve?”; online at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/will-water-wasting-penalties-help-california-conserve/ (5 min./36 sec.).
*July 4, 2015, “Will California’s new water restrictions ease its historic drought?”; online at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/will-californias-new-water-restrictions-ease-historic-drought/ (9 min./48 sec.).