A Long View of Southern California Water Supply: Perfect Droughts Revisited

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8 Scopus citations


The impact of drought on water resources in arid and semiarid regions can be buffered by water supplies from different source regions. Simultaneous drought in all major source regions — or perfect drought — poses the most serious challenge to water management. We examine perfect droughts relevant to Southern California (SoCal) water resources with instrumental records and tree-ring reconstructions for the Sacramento and Colorado Rivers, and SoCal. Perfect droughts have occurred five times since 1906, lasting two to three years, except for the most recent event, 2012–2015. This number and duration of perfect droughts is not unusual in the context of the past six centuries. The modern period stands out for the relatively even distribution of perfect droughts and lacks the clusters of perfect drought documented in prior centuries. In comparison, perfect droughts of the 12th Century were both longer (up to nine years) and more widespread. Perfect droughts of the 20th and 21st Centuries have occurred under different oceanic/atmospheric patterns, zonal and meridional flow, and ENSO or non-ENSO conditions. Multidecadal coherence across the three regions exists, but it has varied over the past six centuries, resulting in irregular intervals of perfect drought. Although the causes of perfect droughts are not clear, given the long-term natural variability along with projected changes in climate, it is reasonable to expect more frequent and longer perfect droughts in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)212-229
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • Southern California
  • climate
  • drought
  • streamflow
  • tree rings

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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