published Saturday, January 18th, 2014

Dry California spreads thirst from skiers to bears

A visitor to Folsom Lake, Calif.,  walks his dog down a boat ramp that is now several hundred yards away from the waters' edge. Gov. Jerry Brown formally proclaimed California in a drought Friday, saying the state is in the midst of perhaps its worst dry spell in a century and the conditions are putting residents and their property in "extreme peril."
A visitor to Folsom Lake, Calif., walks his dog down a boat ramp that is now several hundred yards away from the waters' edge. Gov. Jerry Brown formally proclaimed California in a drought Friday, saying the state is in the midst of perhaps its worst dry spell in a century and the conditions are putting residents and their property in "extreme peril."
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

LOS ANGELES — Gov. Jerry Brown's announcement that California is having a drought comes as no surprise to skiers, fly-fishers and home gardeners. With a sparse snowpack and piddling amounts of rain, the signs are everywhere. A few examples:

IT NEVER RAINS IN CALIFORNIA

Last year was the driest in 119 years of records. The Department of Water Resources said that Gasquet Ranger Station in Del Norte County, which averages nearly 100 inches of rain a year, ended the year with only 43.46 inches. Sacramento got 5.74 inches instead of the typical 18 inches, and downtown Los Angeles, which averaged 14.74 inches of rain, ended the year with 3.4 inches -- beating a record low of 4.08 inches set in 1953.

PALTRY SNOWPACK EVIDENT FROM SPACE

The first snow survey of the winter this month found "more bare ground than snow," the Department of Water Resources said. The statewide water content was about 20 percent of average for this time of year. The snow water equivalent on Thursday was just 17 percent of normal for the day. Satellite photos taken this week of the Sierra Nevada snowpack -- an important source of water come spring -- shows a skinny snake of white in a stark brown landscape. On the same day last year, the region was a fluffy, swirling blanket of white.

'JUNEUARY' IN YOSEMITE

Yosemite National Park, where people normally are snowshoeing this time of year, is offering summer-like hikes instead. Warm weather and little snow have opened the Four Mile Trail from Yosemite Valley to the stunning vista that looks across at Half Dome and offers views of much of the park. The hut at the end of Glacier Point Road usually is used by cross-country skiers in winter months, but it's being promoted to hikers now, too. "Our team is looking forward to offering skiing and other snow sports when conditions permit, but in the meantime, we are pleased to be able to offer some memorable experiences during 'Juneuary' in Yosemite," said Colin Baldock, guest recreation general manager for Delaware North Companies, which runs concessions in the park.

BAD NEWS FOR BEARS

Tom Loe of Sierra Drifters Guide Service, which offers fly fishing in Mammoth Lakes, said the dry weather is affecting all kinds of wildlife. "The local bears are coming out of hibernation three months early!" he wrote in his Thursday online report. "I have been forced for the first time in nearly 20 years here to water my deciduous trees, in a T-shirt -- they are budding!" He adds: "Hope you get a chance to enjoy spring time in January. Beg, plead, do rain dances, use a last wish, pray, whatever it takes we desperately need snow and rain!"

PRAY FOR RAIN

The California Conference of Catholic Bishops asked people of all faiths to join in prayers for rain. Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto, president of the bishops' conference, suggested a prayer for God to "open the heavens and let His mercy rain down upon our fields and mountains." He suggested prayers for relief and for the wellbeing of those most at risk from a water shortage. Mosques in the Central Valley also prayed for rain earlier this month.

SHORTER SHOWERS, LESS FREQUENT FLUSHING

Several communities already have imposed mandatory water reductions. On Jan. 7, Mendocino County became the first county to request state drought assistance. The Board of Supervisors declared a drought emergency, citing an "imminent threat of disaster." Willits, a town of 5,000 in the county, recently adopted tough water rationing that limits a family of four to 150 gallons of water a day and bans outdoor watering, car washing and hosing down pavement. Businesses have been ordered to cut water use by 35 percent.

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