Home>Articles>If California is Facing a Rare Mega-Drought, Why is the State Releasing Water from Reservoirs

Lake Oroville, Butte County in Northern California, holding 53% of average precipitation. (Photo: California Department of Water Resources)

If California is Facing a Rare Mega-Drought, Why is the State Releasing Water from Reservoirs

Water shortages, lack of groundwater recharge, contaminated drinking water, and subsidence are all man made in California

By Katy Grimes, April 19, 2021 7:29 am

Last week, when California Gov. Gavin Newsom was in Oroville, with a 60% empty Oroville Dam Reservoir as his backdrop, he said he is not ready to declare an official drought emergency. “Instead, he promised he can manage the situation without resorting to an emergency declaration, which could help his administration clamp down on water use,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported. They also reported that the threat of a recall election could be at the root of his decision.

Maybe someone can ask the governor why in the last two weeks, 91% of Delta inflow went to the sea. State pumps are at -97%, federal pumps at -85%. Outflows show 6,060,828,600 gallons. While he still has his emergency powers, can’t the governor order stoppage of this outflow if California really is on the precipice of severe water shortages and a “rare mega drought?”

People forget the winter of 2019 brought 200 percent of average rains and snow pack. Yet the state still held back on water to farmers, and residents are facing rationing, the Globe reported May 2019.

The state uses about 47.5 percent of its developed water supply for the environment, including wild river flows, managed wetlands and wildlife preserves, habitat and water quality control for fish, and required Delta outflows, according to the Department of Water Resource. Water is diverted in times of drought and times of plenty to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, leaving much less for irrigation or for Californians to drink, residents will be limited to 55 gallons per day.

The Globe recently reported, as for water storage, AccuWeather says:

Lake Shasta, California’s largest surface-level reservoir, recorded 65% of what is considered average.

Lake Oroville, the largest reservoir within the State Water Project, a 700-mile-long water storage and delivery system, is at 53% of average. The State Water Project supplies water for over 27 million people and irrigates about 750,000 acres of farmland.

Statewide, Sean De Guzman, chief of snow surveys for the California Department of Water Resources, said the largest reservoirs are holding around half of their total capacity. When current snowpack melts, reservoirs in the state are still only expected to be filled up to 58% of average capacity.

California farmer and water expert Kristi Diener explains “The Pumps:”

California’s water supply flows from north to south. To reach the lower 2/3 of the state and 25 million users, that water must travel through the Delta first. At the south end, water is pumped by the State Water Project and Central Valley Project pumps, put into San Luis Reservoir, and distributed south, east, and west. If those pumps don’t operate, the water supply that enabled California to be developed, inhabited, and cultivated, goes out into the Pacific Ocean instead.

You will hear the radical environmentalists rage that the Central Valley and Southern California are diverting so much water that fish are suffering. The fact is, in the last 14 days alone, 90.8% of delta inflow became seawater. On average, about 80% is not pumped to supposedly protect fish.

This is devastating right now because the temperatures are rising, the modest amount of high country snow we received is melting, and we should be capturing as much water as we can, while we can. Pumping has been ratcheted back to a trickle instead. State pumping today is at 2.9% of capacity, and federal pumping today is 15%.

We are now living the intentional deconstruction of the aquifers and the groundwater. We are watching our home-grown food supply, and the most fertile farmland on the planet being destroyed. We are drinking water from the bottom of the barrel where contaminants are in concentrated form without the freshwater dilution for wells. Our infrastructure—-canals, roads, and bridges, are sinking because without water to plump it up, land drops.

This is happening at the hands of man, not climate change. Water shortages, lack of groundwater recharge, contaminated drinking water, and subsidence are all man made in California. Today an amount of water equal to a year’s supply for 264,000 people became unusable saltwater.

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. (Photo: Facebook)

What AccuWeather didn’t say is that the state has been letting water out of reservoirs across California for months now. And it’s not going to farmers, growers, ranchers or urban use. Environmental policy says the water “flows” from reservoirs are necessary to produce a rebound of endangered Delta smelt and Chinook salmon. However, these policies are a failure as neither species have been collected in all of the latest trawling surveys, where they spend several days a month searching in more than 200 spots. This practice of releasing water and hoping fish improve, has been unsuccessful for nearly 30 years, according to Diener. Both species are close to extinction.

California’s drought conditions are actually historically normal, and just as California’s last drought was billed as the driest period in the state’s recorded rainfall history, this drought is being called a Rare Mega-Drought.” So why is the government breaking up hydroelectric dams, and letting much-needed water rush to the sea for Coho salmon instead, unless turning California into a wasteland is the goal.

Who decides that this is good policy? Environmentalists? And why do enviros have such a stranglehold on the state’s politicians? Don’t they need water too?

The human cost of over-regulation is bleeding California businesses, agriculture and middle-class families.

California’s population has increased dramatically while water storage has not. The population in California has doubled since 1977. And lousy planning in the hands of environmentalists and government has left the state in dire need during this and other recent droughts.

California’s last drought, five years long, ended in 2017, which allowed Gov. Jerry Brown’s State Water Resources Control Board to restrict outdoor watering in urban areas by as much as 36% – but it’s clearly not urban areas that use the bulk of the water in the state since 50% of California’s water supply goes to environmental uses.

Diener said, “50% of California’s water supply goes to environmental uses, 40% is converted to the food we eat and the clothes we wear, and the remaining 10% is for urban use. Families did not waste their way into a water shortage and cannot conserve their way out. Saving 25% of a 10% urban use equals 2.5%. Ongoing water releases continue to put fish over people, and both are suffering. More water rights holders than ever before are about to receive stop-using-water notices.”

Rather than encourage lawmakers to bring him legislation to beef up the state’s water storage capacity during the last drought, Gov. Jerry Brown signed new laws to limit each citizen to just 55 gallons per person per day by 2030, and 50 gallons by 2050. What will Gov. Gavin Newsom do?

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32 thoughts on “If California is Facing a Rare Mega-Drought, Why is the State Releasing Water from Reservoirs

  1. Just in time to enforce that 55 gal per day per individual water limit. He wins the recall,that will be his next step.

  2. From the reading I have done, I was aware of the water release into the ocean and the lack of dams and reservoir construction meeting the population increase. However, I had no access to the details of how the water is distributed between the environment, agriculture and home use. Thank you so much for breaking it all down! As per usual, you have done an excellent job on reporting the FACTS.
    I so appreciate this.

  3. Thank you, Katy Grimes, for consistently covering these important water issues.
    To fearmonger about shortages of water, which not coincidentally is fundamental for life, is one of the most malevolent things a government can do to harm its people. To add insult to injury, in California it has been completely unnecessary. Every 5-6 years the state experiences near-Biblical torrential rainfall and this water needs to be stored to help us through the dryer years. Since 2000, voters have approved $30 BILLION in bonds to build and improve water infrastructure so that this can be achieved. Have we seen any addition or improvement of the necessary infrastructure since then? NO — we’ve only seen deterioration and/or destruction of existing infrastructure, insane amounts of water waste, and mystifying support of a sardine fish that has been prioritized over the well-being and peace of mind of Californians.

    These threats to cause deprivation, not only for individual citizens, but for farms and agricultural production and other vital industry, are meant to control the population and to wring more money out of us. What our state “leadership” is doing is PURPOSEFUL. We know it is because for DECADES there were options to do things differently at each fork in the road, but they were never done. Apparently this same “leadership” counts on voters to forget what they have voted for and to forget what they expected would be done for them to avoid the very crises that these “leaders” are only to happy to roll out in hopes of keeping the populace in a constant state of fear and deprivation and, ultimately it appears, poverty.

    1. Fish are more important than people. The smelt isn’t even native to California. If water is in such short supply, why are we a sanctuary state? Our water bills are already huge. I live in Los Angeles. Our electric bills are expected to go up under the new administration. What next?

  4. This all part of the Democrat depopulation plan. Take away the water from farmers and you have no food and people pack up and move.

  5. Democrats thrive on FEAR to control the people to adapt to their agenda for hope, which none will come just more thirst for power.

  6. Who needs this state and it’s imbecile politicians…

    I mean, really….

    Billions of dollars in bonds were floated to improve water infrastructure and what was done with those funds????


  7. Just like with our national borders, we have no say in who lives here, our population is being swapped out for people with no stake in America, for those that moved to get away from taxes and crime.. As a result, there is no one to push back against environmental activism. The Sierra Club is the fishes Teacher’s Union. Noting moves without their OK.

  8. No Crisis No Control. No Crisis No Need for government intervention. Since the people abdicated personal responsibility to the government the government is all too happy to take control of their lives.
    Man up, Woman up, take responsibility for your decisions!
    Lecture is now over!

  9. You really should talk to experts (here’s a suggestion: start with the officials at the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project, or even the Water Education Foundation reports on the Delta) rather than advocates (sorry, Ms. Diener is a very good advocate but not one to accurately characterize the flow of water through the Delta). You all have a fundamental misunderstanding of how an estuary works – without water “flowing to the ocean”, you lose the salinity barrier that prevents brackish bay water from intruding into the system and rendering Delta agriculture (it was here before the water export projects were and has a right to usable water quality) useless. Not to mention the need to keep brackish water away from the export pumps – if it intrudes too far into the system, the export pumps cannot operate until the water from upstream reservoirs flushes the brackish water through the system. Remember, the Delta is a tidal estuary with tidal effects felt all the way up the Sacramento River to the City of Sacramento – that’s a long distance from the Carquinez Strait, where the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers have merged and flow out to the Bay.

    1. The salt water line has been artificially moved towards the sea by the un-natural water releases out of season. In a natural system the river flow into the delta is nearly zero in the late summer and fall which brings salt water far inland.

  10. Psyop – you use a fake drought to invent the fake appearance of “climate change caused it” so you can usher in the “solution” which is a multi-trillion-dollar “carbon credit derivatives” market for Goldman Sachs. It’s called “manufacturing consent.”

    1. I think you’ve got it right. A manufactured crisis to extort money. The fairly new fixed water fee plus increased rates for less water and less freedom to use it.

  11. What interesting looking at the numbers here..


    ..is there seems to be a strong drought / no drought pattern going back decades for all species. And the catastrophic decline in smelt number began around the time that court mandated large scale water releases started.

    Radical conservationist are not the smartest folk and my guess is that it never crossed their tiny minds that the smelt population had adapted to particular saltwalter levels in the delta that had existed for many many decades since large scale water removal started and changing the water flows so radically was gong to causes a catastrophic population decline which would take decades to recover.

    Not that it matters as this delta eco-system was transitory even before the anglos turned up. Every few hundred years it would have disappeared during the decades of long mega droughts. A cycle which has gone on for thousands of years.

    So who killed the Delta Smelt. It was the Environmental Defense Fund and Sierra Club that killed it. The people responsible for most environmental disasters in California. Through unintended consequences.

    1. You make an excellent and intriguing point, one that I hadn’t heard before, about smelt adaptation. (What I had previously heard was that the smelt had gone downstream where they found to be thriving.) What you raise changes the picture completely and is well worth thinking about. If it turns out to be the truth of it, we have a TANGIBLE link to the Sierra Club et al and their responsibility for the much larger ills and deprivation in the state that followed.
      I always just generally thought that the smelt nonsense was a cover story for wanting to hurt and get rid of farmers and agriculture in this state by cutting off their water. How many times have you heard the term “Big Ag?” (like Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Tobacco.) Trying to demonize agriculture lets us know (not so subtly) that they HATE them and want them gone — to be replaced by their “Utopia.”

  12. I thank you for this article. I have been extremely concerned over our water storage and usage here in California for years, yet have not seen a wise solution to our problems. I am extremely frustrated . i just don’t know how we can get our policies changed. They do not make sense to me.
    Thank you for keeping us abreast of what’s happening in California. I sure wish we could change our water and energy policies.

    1. Did you vote Democrat ever in your life? I can assure you that’s where you went wrong. You made your bed. Lay in it.

  13. Used to think the Soviet Union was behind radical environmentalism. Now China is more suspect. Invent a wrong. Attach the wrong to an environmental cause. Stand back and watch teachers, lawyers and radical leftists destroy their own state. Who benefits? Why, China of course!

  14. Part of the problem is when there isn’t enough water moving west from the Delta the Bay really starts to stink. IIRC, this was a real problem in the 1970’s.

    A different part of the problem is the far left is fundamentally fixated on an anti-modern theology so doing anything practical will be opposed by them.

  15. It’s April 21, 2022 and what is the current water situation. I received a notice from California Water service to limit my watering to 2 days per week. Yet we’ve had rain several evenings in a row in April. No mention of the bottled water companies and their effect or if they’re experiencing any mandates. I read Nestle has a permit to draw 2.3 million gallons per year but has been taking 56 million gallons. Why should I stop watering my landscaped yard so Nestles and the rest can steal water.

  16. This is one of the few reporters and publications that covering the water problems in California, thank you!

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