California drought



By Miriam Raftery

Photo: Oroville Spillway, Calif. Dept. of Water Resources

April 7, 2017 (San Diego’s East County) – It’s official:  Governor Jerry Brown today declared an end to California’s statewide drought, thanks to heavy winter precipitation.

But groundwater levels in some areas remain low, so the state will maintain some restrictions on water use to encourage conservation. Brown did not lift the drought order for Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne Counties, where wells went dry and some residents continue to rely on trucked-in emergency water supplies.

Residents are asked to continue avoiding wasting water by hosing off sidewalks or watering lawns during or shortly after a rainstorm.



East County News Service

Source: San Diego County Water Authority

Jan. 26, 2017 (San Diego) — Today the County Water Authority board declared an end to the drought in San Diego County.  The Water Authority will ask Governor Jerry Brown to rescind drought emergency regulations for areas of California no longer in drought conditions.




By Miriam Raftery

December 31, 2015 (Sacramento)—Yesterday the California Department of Water Resources held the first snow survey of the season in the Sierra Nevada mountains. After four years of drought, the snowpack is above normal and state officials are cautiously optimistic, though reservoir levels remain below normal.

The survey found snow depth of 54.7 inches – 16 inches more than the average since 1965.  The water content is 136 percent of average for this time of year at the station ( 90 miles east of Sacramento at an elevation of 6,800 feet).  In addition, electronic readings of 99 stations throughout the Sierra Nevada mountains found water content of the snowpack is 108 percent of average for the date over multiple decades.




By Miriam Raftery

December 10, 2015 (Sacramento) – Helix Water District board member Kathleen Hedberg spoke at a public workshop in Sacramento held by the State Water Resources Control Board on Monday.  Hedberg urged the Board to revise  current emergency regulations that mandate huge water cuts statewide and to take into consideration water districts where customers have already been conserving.

In an impassioned plea, she noted that Helix customers already cut use and have exceeded the mandate, but that this has forced many to allow trees and shrubs to die. She noted that the district has invested in increasing water supply and has adequate water to meet customer needs.

"My constituents and Helix Water District customers are outraged and frustrated that they have paid for water supply, storage and reliability projects and we are being told to cut back on water use even when we have enough water as we prepared for drought times and the future," Hedberg testified. Below are her full comments to the Board, along with her assessment of mixed reactions received from state regulators:



By Tasha Matthews

August, 17, 2015 (San Diego)—National Weather Service forecasters are predicting a wet winter in San Diego due to the probability of a strong El Niño, perhaps the strongest since records began in 1950.

An El Niño occurs as a result of warming ocean surface waters which release heat into the atmosphere over the Pacific, creating a chain reaction that can result in cloud formation, storms and heavy rainfall.




East County News Service

August 14, 2015 (San Diego)—Fruits, nuts, and other crops including some sold as organic have been grown using irrigation from oil fracking wastewater laced with toxins in drought-stricken California.

Now some consumer advocacy groups including Food & Water Watch are calling for a halt to the practice.  Courage Campaign has launched a petition for consumers to pledge that they won’t buy food products grown with oil wastewater, or what Courage Campaign calls “toxic sludge.”

 A shocking investigation by Mother Jones magazine reveals that oil wastewater has reportedly been sold to 90 landowners in Southern California, including Bee Sweet Citrus and  Halos, a citrus company which has the slogan “pure goodness” and Sunview, which sells grapes and raisins including some certified as organic.  Another company reportedly irrigating with oil wastewater is Trinchero Family Estates, which supplies grapes for winemakers including Sutter Home.



Update: Hear a podcast of our radio story on this (originally aired on KNSJ) with audio clips from the Pine Valley Mutual Water Co. Shareholders meeting here:

By Miriam Raftery

Photos by Bob Ames Smith: Pine Valley Creek, several years ago and now, after 4 years of drought


July 15, 2015 (Pine Valley) –With water running short across the state, tensions are building where local water districts are being asked to share precious water supplies with neighboring districts and developers.

Directors of the Pine Valley Mutual Water Company found themselves in hot water with shareholders, who staged a revolt over their board’s decision to sell up to 5 million gallons of water to the newly formed Rough Acres Water Company in Boulevard.  Rough Acres Ranch wants to build an industrial scale solar facility on its property that needs massive amounts of water—and Boulevard doesn’t have enough.  

But when Pine Valley shareholders—the residents who rely on water from Pine Valley wells – found out about the secret sale, tempers at the latest shareholder meeting reached the boiling point, as a tape provided to East County Magazine by Charlene Ayers, leader of the Ranter’s Roost online discussion group on land use issues locally, makes clear.



Helix, Padre and Otay Districts share info, tips at Chaldean Chamber meeting

By Miriam Raftery

July 5, 2015 (San Diego’s East County) – Representatives from Helix,  Padre Dam, and Otay Water districts spoke at a California Drought program hosted by the San Diego East County Chaldean-American Chamber of Commerce on June 24th in La Mesa.

All three districts are working to make sure their customers comply with Governor Jerry Brown’s order for 25% cuts in water use statewide. But their approaches vary, ranging from educating consumers to offering rebates to one district readying to impose fines on heavy water users.

Here’s what you need to know:


East County News Service

May 28, 2015 (San Diego’s East County) – Creating defensible space around your home is more important than ever amid the drought.  But that doesn’t mean hacking down landscaping to bare earth.  Now Cal-Fire has posted information on plants that are fire resistant and drought tolerant. These ideal choices not only provide color and beauty with minimal water – they also provide a safe area for firefighters to operate and increase the odds that your home will survive a wildfire.  

For details, click “read more” and scroll down, or visit




By Janis Russell and Miriam Raftery

May 21, 2015 (La Mesa)- At the board meeting yesterday, the Helix Water District board voted 4-1 for the drought action plan for increased public education and outreach, increased restrictions with two days/week for outdoor water use in tier 3, and a 10% penalty for using 31 units or more of water, effective starting with July 29th water bills.  The plan also limits watering to two days a week and cuts warning for water waste fines to just one courtesy letter. View the resolution here.

Tier-3 users will be charged 10% on water over 30 units each two-month billing period, but will not be charged 10% on the first 30 units, Mike Uhrhammer, senior public affairs representative at Helix, told ECM.  A person who exceeds the limit by 1 unit would pay 55 cents; while 50 units would be $11.02, for instance. See chart above left for details.  Average water use is 26 units over two months for the district.

“There is a variance procedure,” Uhrhammer said, citing a need to irrigate for defensible space or erosion control and undue hardships as examples. The penalties will not apply to tier 1, which is considered essential indoor water use level, or tier 2. Tier 3 is targeted because these residents use water mostly outdoors and the state is pushing districts to encourage homeowners to limit ornamental landscaping.



Source: Helix Water District

August 7, 2014 (La Mesa)--Helix Water District’s board of directors voted yesterday to put Drought Level 2 into effect in response to the State Water Resources Control Board’s passage of mandatory water conservation measures to deal with the current drought.

Since February, the district had been in Drought Level 1, which called for numerous voluntary actions to eliminate water waste. Drought Level 2 makes them mandatory.  Residents and businesses are required to take the following conservation steps:



By Miriam Raftery

June 8, 2014 (Borrego Springs)—For decades, Borrego Springs has been draining down its aquifer at an increasingly rapid pace.  If action is not taken soon, a new report warns, the community could face dire consequences.

The Borrego Water Coalition invites the public to a public outreach meeting on Thursday, June 12 from 4:30 to 7 p.m at the Borrego High School Library, 2281 Diegueno Road in Borrego Springs.


Water Authority Declares Drought Watch Condition

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The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors on Thursday unanimously called upon the region’s residents, businesses and institutions to increase water conservation efforts in response to severe drought conditions across California.

The Board formally activated the agency’s Water Shortage and Drought Response Plan to preserve stored water reserves in Southern California and help keep more water available for other areas of the state more significantly affected by the drought. The Water Shortage and Drought Response Plan outlines orderly, progressive actions the Water Authority can take to avoid or minimize impacts caused by escalating water supply challenges. It was last activated in May 2007 and deactivated in April 2011.

At the same time, the Board also approved notifying the Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that the region is at Level 1 Drought Watch of the region’s Model Drought Response Ordinance. In coming weeks, member agencies will consider what specific actions are necessary for their communities. Typical voluntary conservation steps at Level 1 include:

  • Repairing leaks quickly
  • Washing paved surfaces only when necessary for health and safety
  • Eliminating inefficient landscape irrigation, such as runoff and overspray
  • Irrigating only before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.
  • Using hoses with automatic shut-off valves for car washing and irrigating areas that aren’t on automated irrigation systems
  • Serving and refilling water at restaurants only on request
  • Offering hotel guests the option of not laundering their linens and towels daily
  • Using recycled or non-potable water for construction activities when possible

Northern California’s Lake Oroville is a critical part of the State Water Project, one of San Diego County’s main sources of supply. Photo courtesy of the Department of Water Resources

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought on Jan. 17, 2014, because areas of California have been hit hard by low water supply availability after two consecutive dry years and the start of a third. The governor’s declaration directs state agencies to expedite the processing of voluntary water transfers, enact a statewide water conservation campaign, implement water-use reduction plans at all state facilities and take other actions to provide assistance to farmers and communities that are damaged economically by dry conditions.

The Water Authority does not anticipate water shortages for San Diego County in 2014 because of local investments in water supply reliability projects and programs, a long-term decrease in regional water demand and adequate water storage in Southern California. Those investments include independent water transfers that will provide the county with approximately 180,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water this year. (An acre-foot is about 325,900 gallons, enough to meet the needs of two average single-family households of four people for a year.) Starting in early 2016, the Water Authority expects to begin purchasing local, drought-proof water supplies from the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant under construction in Carlsbad. The project is expected to deliver up to 56,000 acre-feet of water each year, enough for 112,000 households.

In addition, the Water Authority is executing a $3.1 billion Capital Improvement Program to further improve regional water delivery and storage capacity. Major projects include raising San Vicente Dam in East County by 117 feet to provide 152,100 acre-feet of additional storage, and connecting Lake Hodges to the region’s imported water distribution system.

However, the current drought conditions reinforce the importance for all San Diego County residents and businesses to live a WaterSmart lifestyle by avoiding water waste and following water-efficient practices. Go to to take advantage of these programs or check out several handy tips to learn what you can do. 

Roughly 85 percent of the San Diego region’s water supplies come from the Colorado River Basin and Northern California, while about 15 percent are generated locally. The Water Authority is closely monitoring conditions in key watersheds and preparing for the possibility of another dry year.

In recent California history, significant droughts spanned 1976-77, 1987-92 and 2007-11. Following the early 1990s drought, the Water Authority adopted a plan to enhance the reliability of the region’s water supply by diversifying its water sources. That strategy helped offset a significant portion of mandatory water supply cutbacks imposed on the region between 2009 and 2011.

Efforts by residents, businesses and farmers across the region to improve water-use efficiency also are helping to stretch available supplies. Total regional use of potable water in fiscal year 2013 was 24 percent lower than in fiscal year 2007, or roughly 174,000 acre-feet per year – enough to serve about 350,000 households annually.

California and the rest of the Southwest have been very dry since 2012. Most of the major reservoirs on the State Water Project – including Lake Oroville and San Luis Reservoir – are well below their historical averages for this time of year. The state Department of Water Resources’ snow survey in late January showed water content levels at 12 percent of normal. The longer the dry conditions continue, the more likelihood California will experience another below-average year of statewide runoff.

In the Colorado River Basin, this winter has produced near-average snowfall, generating much needed water. However, 11 of the past 14 years have been dry in the Colorado River Basin, and the river’s two main reservoirs collectively are less than half full.

Local conditions in San Diego County also are dry. Precipitation at Lindbergh Field was 43 percent of normal between Oct. 1 and Jan. 31, 2014.


Presentations to the Board of Directors

- See more at:

County Water Authority

February 13, 2014 (San Diegio)--The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors on Thursday unanimously called upon the region’s residents, businesses and institutions to increase water conservation efforts in response to severe drought conditions across California.



Source: California Farm Bureau Federation

January 31, 2014 (Sacramento)-As California’s water situation worsens, the leader of the state’s largest farm organization said rural areas face “severe economic problems” from water shortages.

The State Water Project warned today it will not deliver water to its customers. The federal Central Valley Project—the largest single supplier of agricultural irrigation water in the state—is expected to do the same, unless significant rainfall occurs before its first allocation announcement next month.



By Mark Gavit

As dry winter conditions continue, Gov. Jerry Brown can be expecting the California Department of Water Resources to present him with an emergency drought declaration draft.

Director of the DWR, Mark Cowin, told the California Board of Food and Agriculture that his agency is in the midst of deciding wether or not to present the governor with a drought declaration. Nancy Foley, spokeswoman for the DWR agency said that the declaration may appear "within a couple weeks."