January 24, 2014
by Anna Kheyfets

The Cost of Sunny Skies: California’s State of Emergency Drought

Anna Kheyfets, Program Assistant, Santa Monica

January 2014 in Los Angeles has felt like the best days of summer. While we like to show off our weather forecasts to our more unfortunate neighbors stuck in a second Polar Vortex – we are paying a price for this. Perpetual sunshine, without a cloud in the sky also means no rain. In case you forgot, winter in Los Angeles means a rainy season of December through February.

Last Friday, January 17, Governor Brown declared a Drought State of Emergency for California. I did not need Governor Brown to tell me we were in a drought; this was my sign:



Mammoth Mountain Peak Sign Post, December 2012

Mammoth Mountain Peak Sign Post, December 2013

The Sierra Nevada’s winter snowpack melts during the spring and summer and helps fill water reservoirs downstream – typically providing a third of the water used in California. The snowpack is at about 20 percent of normal average for this time of year – the stark difference can even be seen from space. This was a terrible year for me to have finally bought a Mammoth Mountain season pass.

 NASA-NOAA-satellitedrought.jpg(Image: NASA/NOAA satellite images show last year’s mediocre snowpack compared to this year’s barely-there snowpack.)

2013 was the driest year on record in cities across the West Coast. The table below shows average precipitation amounts and prior records – the database dates back to 1849, before California gained statehood.


2013 Rainfall Record (inches)

Old Record (Year)

Average Annual Rainfall (inches)

Records Begin

Los Angeles, CA


4.08” (1953)



San Francisco, CA


9.00” (1917)



Shasta Dam, CA


27.99” (1976)



Eugene, OR


23.56” (1944) 



2014 isn’t looking any better and is projected to become the new driest year on record, without a drop yet this year. Almost 90 percent of the state is in severe or extreme drought.

 USDroughtMonitor.jpg(Image: United States Drought Monitor.)

What Utilities Can Do

While the Governor can’t make it rain, the State of Emergency declaration serves to expand a  water conservation public awareness campaign (saveourh2o.org), directs state agencies to use less water and hire more firefighters, and gives state water officials more flexibility to manage supply throughout California under drought conditions.

Although we are getting less water from rain and snow, the Colorado River, and the Bay-Delta, new sources of clean water are actually growing. State and water agencies can prepare for drought by investing in a diverse portfolio of water supply solutions: efficiency, recycling, better groundwater management, and stormwater capture and reuse.

  • Water Efficiency: Water-efficient technologies like low-flow toilets and showerheads, WaterSense laundry machines, and high-tech irrigation systems dramatically lower water consumption per capita. Agencies can use innovative conservation incentive programs in which residents are provided a rebate, for switching to more efficient appliances or for converting water-loving lawns to water-efficient gardens.
  • Urban Rainwater and Stormwater Harvesting: Pocket parks, green roofs, grassy mounds, cisterns and other types of green infrastructure allow communities to capture rainwater where it falls—instead of letting it pour off streets, pick up pollution, flood sewage plants, and end up contaminating our beaches. The water can then be stored for use, evaporated back to the atmosphere, or filtered into the ground, where it can benefit vegetation and replenish groundwater supplies. An NRDC report found that catching rainwater falling on rooftops alone could meet between 21 and 75 percent of the water supply needs of several major U.S. cities.
  • Water Recycling and Re-Use: Cities are increasingly using recycled water, thoroughly treated “wastewater” meeting all state and federal drinking water standards, to irrigate parks and lawns and recharge groundwater supplies.
  • Better Groundwater Management and Groundwater Cleanup:  Efforts to clean up contaminated groundwater can provide valuable supplies while also creating underground storage capacity that can be used to capture urban stormwater and recycled wastewater for use in dry years.

Taken together, these solutions can provide more water than we ever exported from the Bay-Delta. By reducing reliance on imported water, local water utilities will be more prepared for the climate impacts already here and those on their way. Read Ben Chou’s blog for more on how California’s water management issues are impacted by climate change.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves close to 19 million people, announced that it has enough water to serve its customers this year without requiring cutbacks in use, despite receiving only a 5% initial allocation from the State Water Project (its primary source of water imported from northern California).  Five Southern California urban water agencies are planning to reduce or eliminate the use of imported water in favor of sustainable, local water supplies. But despite this relative good news, there is still a lot of work to be done to make California’s water system more sustainable.

Enter your California zip code here and find out more about where your water supply comes from and whether your water agency is taking steps to secure a reliable water future by investing in sustainable water supplies. If it’s not, urge your elected representatives to do more to care for this precious resource.

What You Can Do

The Governor also urged people to voluntarily curb their water use by 20 percent. It’s not difficult – fix leaks in faucets and toilets, put a bucket in the shower and use that water for your plants, turn the faucet off while brushing your teeth and shaving. Here are nine more simple steps you can take to conserve water at home to reduce your water footprint.

You should adopt these water efficiency and conservation strategies, even if you’re in the comfort of Metropolitan Water District’s healthy reserves or reading this while snowed in on the East Coast. While these solutions might not fix the lack of snow this snowboarding season, it is important to use water wisely and to develop more local resources to help ensure that we are able to provide for our future water needs.

Continue reading

Share on Facebook

August 23, 2013
by MoreRecycling

NASA partner Sierra Nevada Corporation completes second Dream Chaser captive-carry test

NASA partner Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) of Louisville, Colo., successfully completed a captive-carry test of the Dream Chaser spacecraft Thursday, Aug. 22, at the agency’s Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif. Continue reading

Share on Facebook

June 27, 2013
by MoreRecycling

Illegal marijuana grows threaten fishers in the southern Sierra Nevada

Rat poison used on illegal marijuana grows is killing fishers in the southern Sierra Nevada, according to a recent study conducted by a team of scientists. Continue reading

Share on Facebook

April 30, 2013
by MoreRecycling

Lake found in Sierra Nevada with the oldest remains of atmospheric contamination in Southern Europe

Scientists found, in the Laguna de Rio Seco lagoon, at an altitude of 3,020 m., evidence of atmospheric pollution caused by lead and linked to metallurgical activities from 3,900 years ago (Early Bronze Age). Lead pollution increased gradually during t… Continue reading

Share on Facebook

March 7, 2013
by MoreRecycling

Bats not bothered by forest fires, study finds

A survey of bat activity in burned and unburned areas after a major wildfire in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains found no evidence of detrimental effects on bats one year after the fire. The findings suggest that bats are resilient to high-severity… Continue reading

Share on Facebook

March 1, 2013
by MoreRecycling

Saharan and Asian dust, biological particles end global journey in California

A new study is the first to show that dust and other aerosols from one side of the world influence rainfall in the Sierra Nevada. Continue reading

Share on Facebook

January 29, 2013
by MoreRecycling

Stable fisher population found in the Southern Sierra Nevada

After experiencing years of population decline on the West Coast, a recent study examining fisher populations found that — at least in the southern Sierra Nevada — the animal’s numbers appear to be stable. Continue reading

Share on Facebook

April 5, 2012
by Michelle Mehta

California: Leading the Fight Against Climate Change

Michelle Mehta, Attorney, Water Program, Santa Monica, CA
As the most populated and one of the most diverse states in the U.S., there is a lot at risk in California from climate change.  From the snowcapped peaks in the Sierra Neva… Continue reading

Share on Facebook