California Drought Worsens, Water Supply Prospects in San Jose ‘Worse than Dire’

The first two months of 2022 are shaping up to be the driest January and February in California history, prompting state officials to warn of dire water conditions ahead.

“There’s no precipitation forecast through the remainder of February. And there’s very little precipitation in the long-range forecast for March,” Erik Ekdahl, a deputy director with the State Water Resources Control Board, said at a board meeting Tuesday. “All this is pointing to, again, some pretty dire conditions statewide for drought.”

After record-setting storms in October and then December, the past six weeks — usually among the wettest months in California — have seen precipitation totals plateau at roughly half the yearly average in the state’s major watersheds.

The dry spell follows the driest year in California since 1924, as aridity continues to dominate the West.

The prolonged drought, which began in early 2020, leaves many water suppliers leaning more on their stored water supplies or shifting to other sources, such as groundwater.

Jennifer Pierre, general manager of the State Water Contractors, an association of water agencies in Southern and Northern California and the San Joaquin Valley that receive supplies from the State Water Project, called the storms late last year “a blip” that meant little to California’s water supplies.

The agencies are getting 15% of their requested supplies from the state aqueduct, which carries water from Northern California rivers south. Initially, the allocations were set at zero, which meant deliveries would only cover enough for public health and safety.

For residents of the Silicon Valley, the conditions could mean tightening restrictions and increasing rebates to reduce water use.

In San Jose, customers who exceed limits — based on a 15% cut in amounts of water they used in 2019 — already have to pay extra fees.

The drought has collided with earthquake retrofits that required almost completely draining the area’s largest reservoir, knocking out more than half of the storage capacity serving 2 million people in and around San Jose.

In June, Valley Water’s board mandated a 15% cut to water use from 2019 levels, to be implemented by the local water agencies it supplies. Board chair Gary Kremen said he wouldn’t be surprised to see an update to the restrictions and rebate programs come up for another vote.

“You use the word dire,” Kremen said. “But for us, it’s kind of worse than dire.”

The storms early in the rainy season mean California’s water supplies are in better shape now than last year, said state climatologist Michael Anderson. Nearly the entire state is in moderate drought, with about two-thirds in severe drought. But if precipitation totals hold, he expects this year to round out the driest three years on record — even drier than the three-year span between 2013 and 2015 during the last record-breaking drought.

“The challenge is, this is year three of the drought rather than year two,” Anderson said. “And in terms of a three-year period, we’re likely going to set a new record for a three-year window of drought.”

The snowpack, too, hasn’t increased. A critical water supply, the Sierra Nevada snowpack was measured at 72% of normal for Feb. 15, but only 55% of the seasonal average measured on April 1. And in parts of the state, the snow is already melting.

“You’re in this window where you’re still expecting to be building (snow)pack, but it’s already starting to melt,” Anderson said. “The challenge will be how much snowpack makes it to spring, and how much shows up in the reservoirs.”

Anderson is keeping an eye on the months ahead, and hopes that March will bring more rain and snow than anticipated. A big question will be how much runoff from snow melt in the Sierra Nevada will reach California’s reservoirs, which saw substantially less runoff than expected last year.

“The good news is there’s room in the reservoirs to capture what does make it to the streams and come down,” he said. “The challenge is that if we’re dry this early, the demands for water start earlier.”

Most of the state’s reservoirs are sitting below historic averages despite the December deluge, with some notable exceptions, such as Folsom Reservoir — “the breadwinner of the storms,” Michael Macon, who works with the water board’s Division of Water Rights, said Tuesday.

Lake Shasta is about half a million acre-feet — enough to supply 1.5 million households for one year — short of where it stood last year. Oroville has climbed above last year’s levels, but the amount of water flowing out is starting to match water flowing in following a dry January, Macon said.

Looking ahead, Anderson says it’s a matter of waiting and watching whether spring brings more rain and snow, and how quickly summer heats up.

“The challenge then becomes, well, what does summer look like? Does it heat up really fast? Do we end up with a lot of heat waves?” he said. “Or do we get a little bit of a break with some cooler weather?”

Rachel Becker is a reporter with CalMatters.

11 Comments

  1. no more houses, but we can certainly entertain more people and rats of course!

    Biden – whatever you do – keep dem borders open and keep lookin the other way on H1B visas!

    San Jose – no need to keep up these encampments, I’m sure the rats will consume the biohazardous materials before it contaminates anything… thank goodness for the rats or we’d be lost

  2. DEM Failed Policy coming home to roost…
    sometimes it takes a punch in the face to come to your senses and wake up to reality.

    “….you can’t conserve your way out of a drought…”

    DEM control in Sacramento has done little about water resources since the ’70s,
    but
    Gov Gavin will Rob the Gas TAX (Roads & Infrastructure Funds) to ensure
    a High-Speed Train between Bakersfield and Merced in the soon-to-be dust bowl Central Valley.

    Sacramento has to get on board with streamlining the Environmental Review process and invest the budget surplus into sustainable Water and Energy projects.

    New reservoirs, new & higher dams and water reclamation projects
    – much cheaper to recycle household waste water than to desalinate ocean water.

    Gavin may not care about Water, Fires, & Energy but he will ensure you will be able
    to go between Bakersfield and Merced in a hurry.

    “Many CA dams need infrastructure and operational upgrades.
    2/3s of California’s dams are at least 50 years old.
    More than 90 need major upgrades to better handle large floods or withstand earthquakes.”

  3. CA Patriot,

    As the water behind the dams dry up, the point of the dams will be useless. The fact was that the change in the ecosphere is getting worse, did you here that the oceans will rice 3 times faster than originally thought?

    THe facts are as the lack of rain becomes permenant, the grim reality is the dams will become notihng but a landmark, and not perform any function.

    If you want relaible water, we will need to contract as many as 60 water desalinization sites. But the problem will be the power needed to operated them. I am curious as to where that energy can come from. This is something that the Republicans and Democrats share equal responsibility. Because in the last 60 years, the political powers are generally evenly split.

    If in fact we are about to see a permant reduction of rain of just 10%, then these dams are likely to run dry.

  4. I’m thinking it’s God punishing us for what we’ve done to our children through school closures and masking. Pure evil seems to be running through the veins of our health directors and governors.

  5. Joe Smith,

    GOD does not exist. But yes remember the fallicy of humans. They think they can master nature when it is the other way around.

    Humans disturbance of the biosphere is now going to accelerate, just understand the oceans will rise 21 feet if the earth reaches 3. C in temperature, we are already at 1.5C.

    So sorry yuor deslusion of a supreme entity controlling the world is just that. You should watch thedebate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. Really funny stuff https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6kgvhG3AkI

    See you.

  6. Steven,

    I am a Deist. I think there is a God out there but I reject revelation and divine intervention. I’m not trying to convince you or prove it scientifically so our opinions are both equally rational, as neither makes a prediction that can be tested throughhe scientific method. I am a lifelong centrist democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020 btw. Of course I do know we evolved from lower forms of life and the universe is billions of years old. This has no bearing on the existence of God.

    As far as water I definitely agree on desalination. The easiest way to power it with nuclear power. As a veteran of US Navy nuclear submarines, I used to spend months at a time– my longest period underwater is 87 days — living less than 600 feet (200 m) from an operating nuclear reactor and I don’t glow in the dark. It’s the best way to get a large amount of power from a small land area with no co2 or other pollution. The waste can be repeocessed; the remainder after the process is only radioactive for a few hundred years instead of thousands. We all had to become qualified in submarines, an intellectually demanding process in which one has 9 months to learn all major systems on the submarine as well as the scientific principles of their operation. Officers who went to Stanford and MIT find it difficult and of course as an enlisted man I had to do it without the benefit of a college education, just my relatively high iq. The officers have to have stem degrees so they can use calculus to make various calculations regarding how hard they can push the reactor.

    Unfortunately people have an irrational fear of nuclear power especially people on our side (center-left at least for me).

    The good news is we have lots of sunshine jn California so we could use that for desalination. Yhe heat of the sun can desalination water. Also menhanced geothermal — injecting water into naturally hot rock underground to make an artificial geyser — holds promise for a source of baseboard 24/7 non-nuclear power source for those with irrational fear of nuclear power.

  7. NEUTRINO78X,

    The really scary problem with the only solution, it will take at least 5 years to get some desalinators online. But by then the shortages are likely going to force relocation of many businesess and people because the water supply shortage will reach a point where population relocation willl be neccessary. At the same time the agriculture business will be forced to cut production too, which will lead to food shortages supplied by CA. Lets face it, the state of CA is facing its ultimate problem which unless the climate shifts back to its original rain amounts, it is a brick wall. It looked good ealy this winter, but is now a stall.

  8. The Democrats run the state for decades. They have failed to meet basic needs of Californians.

    They have failed with our schools, keeping our communities safe, and providing water.

    So what we will hear from them now is, “vote for me and I will fix the problem.“This type of constipated thinking begs a question – – why haven’t you fix it over the last 20 years? They create a crisis and then run for reelection promising to fix the problem. It’s clear to me that they believe that most of the voters in California are stupid (sadly, they may be right).

  9. HB,

    You know that the water crisis started in the 1972 where there was a report published that year.

    You do realize Ronald Reagan was governor and we had a republican legislature during 1967-1975.

    Then we had Ed Brown and we had a democratic legislature from 1976-1983

    Then we had George Deukmejian and we had a republican legislature from 1984-1991

    Then we had Pete Wilson and a repeblican ligislature from 1992-1999.

    Then we had Gray Davis a democratic legislature during 1999-2003

    Then we had a Arnold Schwarzenegger and a republican legislature during 2004-2011

    Then we had Ed Brown and a democratic legislature from 2011-2019.

    Gavin Newson had office only since 2020, and a democratic legislature currently.

    BOTH PARTIES FAILED AND YOU JUST WANT TO ONLY BLAME ONE. SORRY THE HISTORY PROVES YOU WRONG. The Republicans have been in charge 32 out of the last 55 years and the Democrats have been in charge for the last 23 out of the last 55 years.

    But go ahead and believe what you want, history proves otherwise

  10. In contrast to the wishy-washy Democrat governors this state has been burdened with, ALL Republican governors have strongly supported construction of the Auburrn dam.

    A dam at Auburn was planned in the 1920’s. Construction began in the ’60’s. The Auburn dam would have more than doubled NorCal’s water storage capacity, but the primary reason was flood control because without it, Sacramento faces a Katrina level disaster. Rep. Lukenbill stated categorically that without the Auburn dam, Sacramento faces “the absolute certainty of catastrophic flooding.”

    Numerous polls have been taken to assess the public’s opinion regarding construction of the Auburn dam. In every poll, the public overwhelmingly supported the Auburn dam project. The Sacramento region currently has less flood protection than New Orleans had before Katrina, but the scuttling of the Auburn dam leaves no alternative.

    The enviro lobby misrepresented the dam as an either/or project, rather than basing it on a cost/benefit analysis that compared 500 year flooding scenarios. In fact, the likelihood of a Katrina-type disaster is far more likely than a disaster caused by an earthquake. A cofferdam below the Auburn dam was added as flood mitigation if an earthquake totally destroyed the Auburn dam — a scare story based on the fabricated, data-free opinions of drive-by ‘experts’.

    Those stories — based on the equivalent of computer games — were intended to frighten the public. It worked. Tlevision and newspapers trumpeted their wild-eyed disaster scenarios, while downplaying the much greater risks associated with not providing the Auburn dam’s flood control.

    The public wasn’t told that those earthquake scenarios were based on a data-free drive-by “analysis,” which ignored any facts that contradicted their earthquake scare.

    But the public was frightened. That provided cover to electeds, allowing them to lead the charge that ultimately scuttled the Auburn dam.

    So now, after wasting more than ONE BILLION (1960’s) dollars on construction, the Auburn dam is just a big, ugly hole in the ground. It provides no tax revenue, no pollution-free electricity, no jobs, no recreation — and no water storage.

    Doubling Northern California’s water capacity would have gone a long way to mitigate the effects of this drought. That water is even more critical now, with the deliberate elimination of the state’s southern border, which allows millions upon millions of citizens of foreign countries to flood into the state every year, attracted by all the “free” money and benefits handed to them at taxpayer expense.

    California has barely enough water for it’s own citizens, but every illegal alien needs water, too. They’re no different in that regard. What is different is the public’s disagreement with the self-serving clique of electeds, who serve the citizens of foreign countries at the expense of their own citizens.

    Every poll of California residents shows strong disapproval of open borders. But the current crop of electeds treacherously serves the interests of citizens of foreign countries over their own country’s citizens, that they’ve taken an oath to represent.

    At this point, an initiative that decisively deals withh this untenable situation is probably the only realistic response for the state’s dwindling number of hard-bitten taxpayers. Otherwise, the ongoing influx of illegals will soon trigger an unmitigated disaster.

    Maybe a disaster is exactly what this unpatriotic, treacherous crowd of electeds is promoting.

    If so, then what…?

  11. Smokey,

    Doulbing the water storage only means you have a bigger bowl, but the same amount of water suppliy would just make them equally empty. The only safe reliable water supply is one in underground storage. In California at least 65 inches of water evaporates in a year. In effect if we had more dams, they would just be more dry.

    Your premise of more dams making more water is so scientifically flawed. In fact we lose water in the aquaducts and the irragation systems too due to evaporation. We do not have any way of stopping the drying out of the state at this time. Climate change is irreversible now.

    Didn’t you see the report that ski resorts have no snow to operate? Where is the water going to come from?

    Time to finally accept that dams would never solve this problem, it never could.

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