Category Archives: California Drought

Rain Is About To Pound The Golden State



A rainy season that hasn’t been very rainy until recently is about to end with a bang.

The storms expected to hit a wide area of the California coast is being called an “atmospheric river” in meterological terms.

Here’s the San Francisco Chronicle‘s SFGate with more:

A supercharged storm known as an “atmospheric river” is on its way to California and expected to bring a days-long deluge of rainfall along with mild temperatures.

The “pineapple express” soaker that’s carrying moisture from as far away as Hawaii  will deliver widespread rain to the Bay Area late Tuesday morning through Thursday.

The warm, wet system will keep daytime highs mild — in the 50s and 60s — and bring the heaviest rainfall to the South Bay and southward into Central California.

Monterey and Santa Cruz counties could see 2 to 5 inches of rain and the highest peaks in Big Sur more than 10 inches across the three-day period. Urban parts of the Bay Area are forecast to record about 1.5 inches.

The rain will first hit the Big Sur area early Tuesday morning and spread into the central Bay Area later in the morning, most likely in the middle of the morning commute. Rain will be widespread, heavy and steady Tuesday afternoon.

Southern Californians are also bracing for very wet weather.

Here’s the Los Angeles Daily News with what to expect:

A powerful Eastern Pacific storm system took aim at the Southland today, preceded by a subtropical plume of moisture expected to generate rain starting this afternoon and trigger flash flooding both in burn areas and far from them beginning Wednesday, forecasters said.

The Pacific storm system will be making its West Coast approach through Friday, according to a National Weather Service statement.

At the same time, “a subtropical fetch of moisture well ahead of the system is expected to bring periods of moderate to heavy rain to portions of Southwest California as early as this afternoon and continuing through late Thursday or early Friday,” it added. “The most widespread moderate to heavy rain currently looks to be focused along and ahead of a cold front pushing through the region Wednesday night into Thursday.”

The rain likely will stop late Thursday or early Friday, according to the NWS.

Total rainfall from this storm is expected to range from 2 to 5 inches in coastal and valley areas and between 5 and 10 inches across the foothills and coastal slopes, it said.




Uh-Oh: Not Much Rain Is Falling In California

Kelly M. Grow/ California Department of Water



Unseasonably warm California weather is great to get outdoors, but a lack of winter rain that’s been a pattern in the last couple seasons is cause for concern coming off such an extended drought.

Here’s the L.A, Times:

The dry conditions are partly to blame for the worst fire season on record in California. Low humidity and lack of rain coupled with high winds fueled destructive wildfires from Mendocino down to San Diego this fall. In wine country, more than 40 people died and more than 10,000 homes were lost. To the south, the Thomas fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties became the largest wildfire on record in California.

If the trend continues, forecasters say California could see, come spring, a light Sierra Nevada snowpack, a key source of water for the state during the dry summer.

The weather station in California with the longest record of recording rainfall, San Francisco, has measured just 3.4 inches of rain since the start of July. That’s only 44% of average for this time of year, said meteorologist Jan Null.

So far this December, San Francisco has received only 0.15 inches of rain.

San Francisco is already close to the halfway point in its rainy season: Jan. 19. In an average year, the city would have received 11.83 inches by then, halfway to the annual average of 23.65 inches, Null said.

Null said he analyzed rain records going back to the oldest precipitation record on file for California, the 1849-50 season in Gold Rush-era San Francisco. He found that there were 22 years in which San Francisco at this point in the season had similar anemic — but not abysmal — rainfall, between 2.9 inches and 3.9 inches.

And what Null found was bad news: Of those 22 years, only four of them caught up in the remainder of the rainy season and finished above the average.

“Those aren’t very good odds,” Null said.

Here’s some more Bay Area perspective on the lack of rain/snow from the San Jose Mercury News, as the state starts to feel the sense of urgency to receive some wet weather.:

“February is the peak season for snow accumulation,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA who studies Western weather patterns. “Every week that we don’t reverse this trend from here forward, it’s going to be that much harder to get to where we want to be by the end of the season.”

Nearly all of California’s rain and snow falls between Nov. 1 and March 31. So time is running short.

“The figures don’t lie,” said Doug Carlson, a spokesman for the state Department of Water Resources. “We’re at 30 percent snowpack right now, and last year at this time we were at 182 percent.”

Ominously, the forecast for the next two weeks calls for more hot weather across the state, with almost no chance of rain or snow.

The reason: A ridge of high-pressure air, which is nearly 4 miles high and stretches from the Gulf of Alaska to the California-Mexico border, has been strengthening in recent days. Such ridges, which were the main cause of the state’s 2012-2017 drought, block storms that normally bring California moisture during the winter months.

“It’s like a giant boulder sitting in the stream and preventing the stream from reaching the state,” Swain said. “The stream is the jet stream, and it’s sending storms into Alaska and British Columbia.”

As the Fresno Bee also states, the drought-like conditions could have a major financial strain on Sierra tourism like ski areas.:

This winter marks the 60th anniversary of China Peak, the 1,300-acre ski area in the Sierra National Forest east of Fresno.

But instead of celebrating, owner/operator Tim Cohee is contemplating the ultimate bummer while struggling through what he describes as the worst season he’s experienced during more than 40 years in the business.

“We have reserves, but at some point they’re going to run out,” Cohee said. “At that point you have to shut the resort down. There is a scenario – maybe it’s not this year – but there is a scenario that says the ski area no longer exists because of these droughts. …

Following five parched years (2011-16) and one year of wet, snowy reprieve (2017), we’re back to the D word. Mother Nature and Old Man Winter again aren’t cooperating. As the calendar flips to February, China Peak reports season snowfall totals of 15 inches at the base area and 28 inches at the 8,700-foot summit.

Normally, those totals are measured in feet.

During the offseason, resort staff replaced the oldest lift servicing the upper mountain, Chair 2, with a quad chair that Cohee purchased second-hand from another resort. The project cost him $900,000, and the “new” lift hasn’t carried a single skier or rider.

“We didn’t borrow any money,” Cohee said. “We paid cash for it. Like to have that back.”

The state could really use rain and snow right about now. But it doesn’t look promising for now.


It doesn’t hurt to beg for some bad – or more specifically good – weather in the Golden State:


San Luis Reservoir Still In Dire Shape

San Luis Reservoir photo by Kjkolb/Wikimedia

San Luis Reservoir photo by Kjkolb/Wikimedia

If the perceived thinking is that California’s drought is over – and the wet weather we had only helped get the state out of critical condition – think again friends. 

Anyone driving on Highway 152 to or from Pacheo Pass and spies San Luis Reservoir would confirm that we still have a long way to go in digging out of danger.

Here’s the San Jose Mercury News with some sobering details:

But the San Luis Reservoir, the vast inland sea along Highway 152 that is a key part of Silicon Valley’s water supply, is only 10 percent full, its lowest level in 27 years.

“Normally that’s an island,” the Santa Clara Valley Water District maintenance supervisor said, pointing to a towering hill.

 The nation’s largest off-stream reservoir is high and dry this summer, and it’s not really because of the drought. Northern California received its most rain in five years this winter.


Instead, a “perfect storm” of controversial human causes — from an attempt to save endangered salmon hundreds of miles away, to age-old water rights that give rice growers near Sacramento the water first — has left the state’s fifth-largest reservoir so low that the last time some now-dry areas were exposed to the air, George Bush Sr. was president, Joe Montana was quarterback of the 49ers and the Loma Prieta earthquake hadn’t happened yet.

 “It is extremely frustrating,” said Melih Ozbilgin, a senior water resources specialist with the district.
 Some relief may occur in about a month. But for now, not only has the situation enraged farmers, it has sparked algae problems and other headaches for nearly 2 million residents of Santa Clara County who drink the water.
The rest of the report is worth a read.

Will Steady Rain Help Alleviate Dismal Salmon Statistics?

Photo by CDFW

Photo by CDFW


Californians are probably wondering what faucet was turned on to help recover from the drought, as rain has been pounding the state (condolences to the loved ones of the motorist killed in San Diego by a fallen tree).

The steady rain should help the desperately low Northern California rivers. But the drought surely had an impact on what was a dismal estimate of 2015 juvenile salmon to survive the conditions.

Here’s the Sacramento Bee with more:

Only 3 percent of the juveniles of an endangered salmon species survived the drought along the Sacramento River in 2015 despite extraordinary efforts by federal and state officials to save them, federal officials said Monday.

It marked the second straight year that the vast majority of juvenile winter-run Chinook salmon were cooked to death on the Sacramento, according to data released by the National Marine Fisheries Service. In 2014, only 5 percent of the juveniles survived.


Because Chinook have a three-year spawning cycle, the 2016 season is considered critical to keeping the salmon from heading to the brink of extinction. Federal and state officials are working on a new plan to preserve the species this year.



The Rise Of Lake Oroville

This March 2, 2015 photo of Lake Oroville shows how the drought affected the lake's water level. But the recent surge of rain has risen the lake level significantly. (PAUL HAMES/DEPARTMENT OF WATER RESOURCES

This March 2, 2015 photo of Lake Oroville shows how the drought affected the lake’s water level. But the recent surge of rain has risen the lake level significantly. (PAUL HAMES/DEPARTMENT OF WATER RESOURCES

Considering how floored I was when I saw how dried out Lake Oroville had become a few years after I got to catch coho salmon there, this news was welcome relief!

From UPI:

California’s Lake Oroville reservoir has risen nearly 17 feet in the past 10 days as consistent rains continue to bring relief to the drought-stricken state.

California’s Department of Water Resources estimates the reservoir is holding 689.14 feet of water out of a capacity of 900. More rain is expected in the coming weeks, which could bring up to 30 more feet of water to Lake Oroville.

“This is excellent. This is what we need,” Kevin Wright , the Sierra Valley watermaster for Department of Water Resources, told KRCR 7 News. “We are not out of the drought … The lake has a long ways to go before it’s full. So, we still need to conserve water.”


Lake Tahoe’s Water Level Rises Dramatically


I’ve spent so many summers at Lake Tahoe with my family I’m always interested in what’s going on up there. But as the Sierras have suffered through a hideous drought, the San Francisco Chronicle provided some details to a significant surge of water:

More than 6 billion gallons of water have poured into Lake Tahoe in less than two days, helping the lake begin to recover from four years of crushing drought.

Since midnight Monday, the lake has gone up 1.92 inches, the equivalent of 6.39 billion gallons of water.

The water comes as a winter storm slams the Sierra, bringing several feet of snow to higher elevations and rain at lake level, which sits at roughly 6,223 feet.

I took the photos above during my last trip to Tahoe in July 2013, when the lake was still in relatively good shape. Check out the link above to see a harrowing photo of an extremely low Tahoe from earlier this year and you’ll realize what good news this is for the state’s water woes.


Bickering Politicians Declare Drought Bill Dead



The Sacramento Bee reported on the ongoing California drought bill talks. Apparently it didn’t go well:

Angry California Republicans threw in the towel late Thursday, conceding that a California water bill that had divided the state was dead for the year.

In a remarkably acrimonious ending to negotiations that once seemed close to bearing fruit, GOP House members acknowledged the bill’s failure while putting the blame squarely on California’s two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

“It’s dead, unfortunately,” Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, said in an interview Thursday afternoon, adding in a later statement that “our good faith negotiations came to naught.”

The utter collapse of negotiations means a California water package that in its latest manifestation spanned 92 pages will not be slipped into a much larger, much-pass omnibus federal spending package needed to keep the federal government open. If legislative efforts are revived, they will come in the new year.

Bee reporter Michael Doyle also talked about the San Joaquin River salmon restoration project, another point of contention:

The Senate bill authorizes partial funding for new water storage projects, including Sites Reservoir proposed for the Sacramento Valley and Temperance Flat proposed for the Upper San Joaquin River. It funds water recycling and desalination projects and potentially eases the delivery of more water to San Joaquin Valley farms.

The original House bill introduced by Valadao, which was the starting point for negotiations,would have repealed an ambitious San Joaquin River salmon-and-habitat restoration program and replaced it with something smaller. It directed the sale of the New Melones Dam on the Stanislaus River to local water districts. It added artificially spawned salmon or smelt when counting Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta fish populations under the Endangered Species Act.

House Republicans dropped a number of controversial provisions, like the one scaling back the San Joaquin River restoration program, while they accepted some of the recycling and desalination funding sought by Democrats. They also, Democrats say, pursued negotiations and cut deals without fully informing all parties, and environmentalists constantly feared being surprised.

“This time of year,” Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said Thursday afternoon, “I always sleep with one eye open.”


Sierra Snowpack Looking Better

Graph courtesy of USDA

Graph courtesy of USDA

The above graph – and one below – shows a promising El Niño-inspired snowpack in the Sierras, which not only bodes well for skiers as Ski Curbed points out, but it’s a welcome relief for drought-stricken California as rainstorms have swept through both Northern and Southern California in the last week.

Graph courtesy of USDA

Graph courtesy of USDA

Here’s Ski Curbed with more:

Looking at the colorful map above, the best places to ski right now are in blue. Lake Tahoe, Taos, and southwestern Utah have benefitted from the early snow this year, with above average bases as a result. Colorado isn’t doing poorly either, especially with a storm on tap today that’s expected to bring double digit snow totals. Meanwhile, things are looking a bit rough for the snowpack in Wyoming, Montana, and much of Idaho. But a few good storms could change that.


woman fishing

Your Chance To Have Your Voice On California Water Bill

Man holding large fish


The following is courtesy of Keep America Fishing:


California Salmon need your help.

Four years of drought have caused huge problems for California salmon runs. A new bill, looking to fix this situation, has been introduced in the U.S. Senate. However, it’s a “good news-bad news” situation.

The Good – Smarter use of available water and keeping federal protections in place for threatened California runs.

The Bad – Targeting of “invasive predators” like striped bass for eradication.  This species has coexisted with salmon for over 100 years. This is a water issue, not a fish issue.

What’s next? Contact Senators Feinstein and Boxer, thanking them for their efforts and asking them to support California sportfishing by protecting all fish.  Keep the good parts of the bill and throw out the bad.

Since this issue is so complicated, we’ve written a letter for you that hits on the points that impact sportfishing.  Click the link below, add your own thoughts, and take action today.

Click here.


California, Salmon And Rice Fields

A Sacramento-area rice field. )Photo by User "Amadscientist"/Wikimedia)

A Sacramento-area rice field. (Photo by User “Amadscientist”/Wikimedia)

Really interesting read by Yale Enviornment 360 on the growing process of flooding Central California rice fields to rear what is becoming a drought-threatening population of Pacific salmon.

Here’s an excerpt from writer Jacques Leslie:

In 2012 Cal Marsh & Farm Ventures and the scientists joined forces in the Nigiri Project, named after a kind of sushi because both combine rice and fish, to use rice fields to promote salmon restoration. The scientists have since compiled persuasive evidence that salmon benefit greatly by lingering in flooded rice fields, while Johnson has started another enterprise that uses rice fields to grow forage fish for protein.
The salmon project is likely within a year or two of overcoming the last bureaucratic obstacles keeping it from operating as a government-sanctioned method of mitigating environmental harm. Though less-developed, the forage fish venture offers the prospect of global impact by taking pressure off of wild fish stocks. Both projects suggest the rising influence of “reconciliation ecology,” which argues for the reconfiguration of human-dominated landscapes to include other species as the only way left to sustain most ecosystems.

Two centuries ago the Central Valley was largely a marshy wetland. When the Sacramento River flooded, juvenile salmon beginning their journey downstream to the ocean were cast onto its floodplain, where they stayed for months, fattening themselves on plankton and insects that were part of the floodplain’s biological cornucopia. But the construction of ever-higher levees in the 19th century, vividly described in Robert Kelley’s 1989 classic

California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife/Yale e360
The Sacramento River Valley, site of initiatives to raise salmon and other fish in flooded rice fields.

Sacramento River history,Battling the Inland Sea, separated the Sacramento from its floodplain.

The result was that salmon were hurtled down the river’s main channel, reaching the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta and the Pacific Ocean too early, when they were underweight and unprepared for predators. Combined with dams, gold mining, and water diversions for agriculture and municipal consumption, the river’s isolation from the floodplain has reduced three of the Sacramento’s four salmon runs to endangered levels.

Southeast Asians have raised fish in rice fields for many centuries, but they do it while the rice is growing, using fish suited to the paddy water’s warm temperatures. What distinguished Johnson’s idea from the traditional Asian practice was that he wanted to grow salmon in the winter, after rice was harvested and water temperatures were low enough for salmon. This wasn’t even possible until the early 1990s, when California’s clean air laws placed tight restrictions on burning rice straw, the farmers’ preferred method of eliminating rice residue.

Whenever the terms salmon and farming, bells and whistles seem to go off,  but the bottom line is, California’s salmon are struggling and I’m all for solutions to help these remarkable fish. But let’s take a wait-and-see approach.