WALNUT CREEK (CBS SF) — Extreme drought conditions continued to expand in the San Francisco Bay Area Thursday with Solano County and parts of Contra Costa and Alameda counties now added to a growing federal list of California regions facing water supply challenges.
Federal water officials update the U.S. Drought Monitor every Thursday. This week’s update revealed the growing water crisis in the Bay Area.
For weeks, Lake, Napa, Mendocino counties and a wide swath of Sonoma County have fallen in the extreme drought category with the remaining Bay Area regions experiencing conditions that fall under a severe drought designation.
Now, the daunting red area of the drought map has expanded south and eastward.
Federal drought officials said a year ago less than 5 percent of California was experiencing extreme drought conditions. This week that had grown to nearly 50 percent of the state.
According to the National Weather Service, currently downtown San Francisco is experiencing its 4th driest rainy season with just 8.72 of precipitation.
Gov. Gavin Newsom was in Mendocino County declaring a drought emergency on Wednesday, and while it specifically applies to Mendocino and Sonoma counties, the entire North Bay is already struggling with drought conditions.
“Oftentimes we overstate the word historic, but this is indeed an historic moment, certainly historic for this particular lake, Mendocino,” Newsom said, standing where 40 feet of lake water was supposed to be. The lake is at about 40% of normal capacity.
Newsom’s concerns were shared by local residents.
“I mean, when you look around you see green hills,” said Sally Gale of Chileno Valley Ranch in Petaluma. “When I look around, I see hills that are starting to turn brown.”
Gale has been watching the evidence mount for quite a while now. The hills that should be lush green are already starting to fade, and the grass that covers them is, in many places, barely six inches high. Knowing what is coming, Gale and her husband have been taking precautions.
“We were very fortunate that we were able to get it early,” she said of her livestock feed supply. “Now it’s so much more expensive.”
But a stack of prime cattle feed is not going to be enough when the fields can’t produce for their grass-fed livestock.
“We have to make adjustments,” said Gale. “So this year, we’ve already sold 50 cows. We only had 100 cows.”
Just a few hills away, there’s another indication of how severe things have gotten and the challenges ahead.
“Where the land gets kind of close together you can see where there used to be an old bridge,” says Elaine Dolcini. “We haven’t seen that since the reservoir filled.”
Dolcini says she has never seen Soulajule Reservoir this low, and it will soon get lower as the water district pumps what is left farther down the system.
“It’s kind of scary to see, to witness it,” Dolcini added. “This is only April, you know?”
“So 2014 was bad,” said Gale. “This is going to be worse,”