With all of California feeling the heat with rising temperatures and very little water to work with, it comes as no surprise that 100 percent of San Joaquin County and 95 percent of Stanislaus County are listed as experiencing “Exceptional Drought” conditions according to the US Drought Monitor, based out of UC Merced.
Level D4-Exceptional Drought lists the following criteria:
Fields are left fallow; orchards are removed; vegetable yields are low; honey harvest is small.
Fire season is very costly; number of fires and area burned are extensive.
Fish rescue and relocation begins; pine beetle infestation occurs; forest mortality is high; wetlands dry up; survival of native plants and animals is low; fewer wildflowers bloom; wildlife death is widespread; algae blooms appear.
According to the US Geological Survey (USGS) 63 percent of streamflow sites are below normal in California with zero percent of the state experiencing above normal precipitation probability.
In other words, the forecast for the foreseeable future is hot, dry and dusty.
The last time California experienced this level of drought was 2014-2016.
Oakdale Irrigation District (OID) Manager Steve Knell addressed local irrigation concerns saying, “By later this month there will be no natural flow in our rivers due to drought. The water remaining in the rivers will be release waters for fisheries, hydro production, etc. Those waters are considered regulatory releases and hence no impact to us. OID/SSJID will only be diverting its stored water from its dams for the remainder of the irrigations season.”
However, Knell added, “The big question right now, and what we’re waiting for from the State Water Resources Control Board (SWB), is the language they will put in the curtailment order after their hearings on Aug. 3 and 4. These curtailments generally can last up to 180 days. If in place after the irrigation season is over, what does that mean to water users who divert and store water during the winter season for use next year? If they can’t divert and store, the consequences could be significant next year for everyone, not just Ag.”
In early July, Governor Gavin Newsom called on all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15 percent compared to 2020 levels through simple actions such as reducing landscape irrigation, running dishwashers and washing machines only when full, finding and fixing leaks, installing water-efficient showerheads and taking shorter showers. These voluntary efforts complement specific local conservation mandates already in place in some communities experiencing acute water shortage conditions this summer.
The state’s more than 1,500 reservoirs are 50 percent lower than they normally are at this time of year, which poses a significant problem for a number of reasons, such as spawning salmon, crop irrigation, and keeping salt water from harming freshwater fish.
But water is also needed to run the hydroelectric power plants that supply much of the state’s energy.
Currently, all eyes are on Lake Oroville during the month of August. If the water levels fall below 640 feet, state officials could be forced — for the second time in history — to shut down a major power plant, which will tax the electrical grid during the hottest part of the summer.
According to the SWB, 81 communities are in danger of running out of water, prompting emergency measures such as the use of desalination plants, strict rationing and emergency wells. A majority of those communities are located in Mendocino and Sonoma counties, but a portion of Merced County will also be affected.
The extreme drought conditions are worsening an already dangerous fire season as the parched landscape has little moisture to combat natural or man-made fire hazards.
Wildfires in California have razed close to four times the number of acres destroyed at this time last year and currently, there are 10 active fires, the largest being the Dixie fire in Butte/Plumas County with only 35 percent containment and 248,820 acres burned, according to CalFire resources.