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Drought designation intensified in northern California

Feather Publishing

The USDA Drought Monitor reports that, increasingly, drought indicators point to the fact that conditions are not appreciably better in northern California than in the central and southern sections of the state. In addition, mounting evidence from reservoir levels, river gauges, groundwater observations and socio-economic impacts warrant a further expansion of exceptional drought (D4) into northern California.

For California’s 154 intrastate reservoirs, storage at the end of June stood at 60 percent of the historical average. Although this is not a record for this time of year — the standard remains 41 percent of average June 30, 1977 — storage has fallen to 17.3 million acre-feet.

As a result, California is short more than one year’s worth of reservoir water, or 11.6 million acre-feet, for this time of year. The historical average warm-season drawdown of California’s 154 reservoirs totals 8.2 million acre-feet, but usage during the first two years of the drought, in 2012 and 2013, averaged 11.5 million acre-feet.

Given the three-year duration of the drought, California’s topsoil moisture (80 percent very short to short) and subsoil moisture (85 percent) reserves are nearly depleted. The state’s rangeland and pastures were rated 70 percent very poor to poor July 27. USDA reported that “range and non-irrigated pasture conditions continued to deteriorate” and that “supplemental feeding of hay and nutrients continued as range quality declined.”

In recent days, new wildfires have collectively charred several thousand acres of vegetation in northern and central California. The destructive Sand Fire, north of Plymouth — now largely contained — burned more than 4,000 acres and consumed 66 structures, including 19 residences.

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