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Drought Update

DROUGHT UPDATE

The San Gabriel Valley is in a Serious Drought

2014 was a hectic year with a drought emergency declaration from Governor Brown on January 17 that was followed by an announcement from the California Department of Water Resources on January 31 that the State Water Project was suspending water deliveries. This meant no replenishment water for our groundwater supplies in the San Gabriel Valley. Coupled with record dry weather, a good thing happened. Actually several good things happened.

First, people everywhere in California began talking about water. Newspapers, TV and radio news, and the internet were flowing with news of the record drought and what to do about it. Conferences sprung up everywhere and government, business and community organizations put water on their agenda. Residents and businesses asked what they could do to save water and to save money. There was hope the drought would change the political "climate" and spur conditions where the Legislature and the Governor would act on needed water-related legislation, infrastructure and funding.

And that's what happened. In November 2014, voters overwhelmingly approved the long-stalled Water Bond which provides $7.5 billion in funding for critical local water supply projects such as storage, groundwater cleanup, water quality, recycled water and storm water capture. Shortly thereafter, legislation was approved that creates better water management practices statewide. While these legislative initiatives bode well for our water supply and water management in the future, severe drought conditions remain in effect and warrant ongoing vigilance, conservation and action.

Drought FAQs

Wikipedia defines drought as an extended period when a region notes a deficiency in its water supply whether surface or underground water. A drought can last for months or years, and occurs when a region receives consistently below average precipitation. Intense drought can cause significant damage to the environment, public health and the local economy (e.g. local fire danger, higher agricultural costs, higher food costs, higher business operating costs, etc.).

According to the California Department of Water Resources, when drought occurs is a function of drought impacts to water users. Drought is a condition of water shortage for a particular user in a particular location. Hydrologic conditions constituting a drought for water users in one location may not constitute a drought for water users in a different part of California or for users with a different water supply. Although persistent drought may be characterized as an emergency, it differs from typical emergency events. Droughts occur slowly, over a period of time. A drought's impact increases with time as carry-over supplies in reservoirs are depleted and water levels in groundwater basins decline.
The most significant statewide droughts occurred during 1928-34, 1976-77, 1987-92, and 2007-09. The last significant regional drought occurred in parts of Southern California in 1999-2002.
By any measure, California and the San Gabriel Valley are in an extended drought.

Rainfall: California got less rain in 2013 and 2014 than in any two-year period since it became a state in 1850. And, 2014 will go down as the hottest year on record. Locally, since July 1, 2014, when the "water year" starts from a record-keeping standpoint, we've had about 6 inches of rain, which is 80% of average precipitation for this time of year. The San Gabriel Valley and Los Angeles areas average about 15 inches of rain a year; rainfall was 12 inches in 2011, 8 inches in 2012, 2 inches in 2013 and about 7 inches in 2014.

Reservoirs: Storage in key state reservoirs in January 2015 is about 63 percent of average and 43 percent of capacity. Many local reservoirs approached record lows in 2014.

Snowpack: A Sierra snow survey conducted at the end of January 2015 found the snowpack's statewide water content at about 25 percent of average for this time of year.
The drought results from a "triple threat" lack of precipitation in the following geographic areas:
  • San Gabriel Mountains which feed local wells and water supplies
  • Sierra Nevada Mountains which feed the Owens River, the L.A. Aqueduct, Northern California, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and the California Aqueduct
  • Western U.S. and the Rocky Mountains which feed the Colorado River.
On Friday, January 17, 2014, Governor Brown declared a drought emergency in California, which remains in effect. This was the first such declaration since 2009 by Governor Schwarzenegger. Such a declaration helps focus the public’s attention on drought conditions, but it also may carry with it specific actions.

The Governor’s drought declaration requests residents reduce water use by 20 percent and it directs state agencies to take a range of steps to ease the effects of water shortages on agriculture, communities and fish and wildlife.
The State Water Project was built mostly in the 1960s. It is the State’s largest water project and brings water from the State’s wet northern region to 25 million residents and 750,000 acres of farmland via the California Aqueduct.

Shortly after the Drought Emergency was declared in 2014, the California Department of Water Resources announced it was cutting water deliveries from the State Water Project to zero. That meant no water from northern California was provided to state water contractors such as the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District (serving the cities of Alhambra, Azusa, Monterey Park or Sierra Madre) or the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. As of February 1, 2015, public water agencies may only receive 15 percent of allotted water supplies from the State Water Project (SWP), operated by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), as 95 percent of the state is still in severe drought.

Improved rainfall conditions could increase allocations, but there is no guarantee, and DWR cautioned that allocations could decrease if dry conditions return. The 2014 water year ended the same as it started, with a historic low final allocation, and water agencies received just 5 percent of their contractual water amounts.

The elimination of this imported water, used largely to replenish underground water supplies, will put increased demand and stress on our local wells, reservoirs and other water supplies. Thus, the amount of water in local wells will decline faster than when average or higher water deliveries are taking place.
No one can say for sure what will happen to water pricing, but, long-term, water prices are likely to rise. We are already witnessing that within the San Gabriel Valley. Remember, water prices to residential and business customers are usually set by municipal water utilities or local water companies. The State and Water Districts typically don’t deal directly with end users.

As in most supply and demand scenarios, scarcer supplies put upward pressure on the cost of water to businesses, residents and agriculture.
The single, most important activity we can all do is save water and voluntarily reduce usage.

Again, no one can say for sure what will happen, but long-term, if the drought persists and worsens, it is likely many local jurisdictions will impose mandatory use restrictions. Rationing is a more extreme measure and, if it happens, will be more on a case by case basis. It is possible the State would take action, as well.

Local municipalities and unincorporated areas may act independent of the State, on a jurisdiction by jurisdiction basis, to implement mandatory water conservation, water use restrictions, rationing, price increases, tiered pricing structures and other measures. Residents should follow local water developments at the city, county, regional and state levels. The San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District has no control over the policies, pricing and actions of these local government entities.

Many communities wil grapple with declining water levels in local wells. Some cities may impose tighter water conservation regulations and higher prices than others.
It’s impossible to predict with specificity other than to know historically dry periods tend to last for several years or more. Here in the San Gabriel Valley, we also experience occasional El Niño conditions which lead to temporary periods of wetter than usual weather. If you follow discussions related to global warming and climate change, there are other factors affecting our water supply than in past years.

While rainfall through the end of 2014 was near average for the July through December time period, and while December storms provided a boost to reservoir storage and water deliveries, January 2015 was very dry and the snow pack, an important “reservoir” of water, is only 25 percent of normal. Several years of above average rain and snowfall are needed to get us out of the current drought.
Each city is different, but most have the ability to provide customer service and conservation information and/or audits. We suggest you either call the water utility in your city or visit their websites:
  • Do less…by that we mean conserve and use less water. Take advantage of rebate programs offered by the District on water-efficient appliances and equipment. You’ll save money in the process.
  • Get informed about other relatively untapped water supply solutions such as recycled water, storm water capture and desalination.
  • Attend your city council and board of supervisor meetings and pay attention to local government action related to water. Because most water is provided to you via local water districts, water utilities or water companies, you should monitor their actions closely for information.
  • Follow federal and state legislation, as well as county and municipal ordinances and regulations. With the Water Bond passing in November 2014, more than $7 billion will be available in upcoming years for various water supply, management and infrastructure projects. You may follow how Water Bond funding is being made available and utilized through the Department of Water Resources website (www.water.ca.gov) as well as by attending meetings or visiting websites of other water agencies.
  • Prepare for disasters which could further stress our fragile water supplies.
Any crisis or emergency has the positive benefit of increasing awareness, prompting action and inspiring creativity and innovation.
  • The new Water Bond and Water Management legislation was approved with strong public support in the midst of our current drought. In the future, new legislation and technology related to water supply and water quality likely will get increased attention, funding and support. Presently, California is considering a variety of additional water-related initiatives such as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.
  • In the past several years, it’s been estimated that across the San Gabriel Valley, water conservation rates in excess of 15% have been achieved through water-efficient technology, equipment and vegetation, as well as greater public education efforts. Greater consciousness about “green” values, climate change and “sustainability” have yielded benefits in the water conservation arena.