Parched Like Never Before


Read on if you like Santa Cruz County rainfall, drought, driest year on record for Santa Cruz County.

Jan. 5, 2014—It's official: 2013 was the driest year on record in Santa Cruz County. The skies sprinkled a stingy 5 inches of rain over our little patch of heaven last year, far less than the previous record year of 1929, when 12 inches fell.

To help put that in context, Nevada—desert-locked, bone-dry, dusty-ass Nevada—averages 9 inches a year.

For decades, average precipitation in the city of Santa Cruz has been around 30 inches annually. So, extrapolating, we were at around 15 percent of normal in 2013. But it gets worse depending on how you slice it. The second half of 2013 was more freakishly dry than the first half; the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported Jan. 4 that since July, the city of Santa Cruz has received 1.3 inches of rain—10 percent of the typical 12 inches that fall in that period. Consequently the Santa Cruz Water Department is mulling water rationing for the first time since 1990. Soquel Creek Water District is following suit; its board will discuss rationing this week.

On Dec. 27, the Sentinel reported that the effects of this miserable condition are manifesting in stranded coho salmon, who seem unable to get up low creeks to spawn, and in a stupid number of fires in the San Lorenzo Valley, where Felton firefighters have fought 29 blazes since Nov. 1, versus 9 in the same period last year. The Sentinel also reports that Felton got 3 inches of rain altogether in 2013—compared to 2012, when it got 30 inches in the last 6 months alone. (Granted, last winter did start out wet. But still.)

Read Pfeiffer Ridge resident Jeff Mallory's account of the December 2013 Big Sur Fire.

And it's not just Santa Cruz County, either. The entire state is dry. The Sierra snowpack this year is 20 percent of normal. The state is saying it will be able to deliver just 5 percent of the water requested this year, and the governor has convened a task force to figure out how to get water to Central Valley farmers under these seemingly impossible conditions.

For some reason no one's calling this a drought. But with January and February expected to be basically dry throughout California, including here, it just seems like a matter of time.