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'Citizen scientists' use drones to map El Nino flooding - Houston Chronicle

'Citizen scientists' use drones to map El Nino flooding

Gillian Flaccus, Associated Press

Updated 3:13 am, Thursday, January 28, 2016

Photo: Florence Low, Courtesy Department Of Water Resources

Water levels at Lake Oroville on September 8, 2015.

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Water levels at Lake Oroville on September 8, 2015.

Photo: Florence Low, Courtesy Department Of Water Resources

Water levels at Lake Oroville on September 8, 2015.

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Water levels at Lake Oroville on September 8, 2015.

Photo: Courtesy Department Of Water Resources

Water levels at Lake Oroville on September 8, 2015.

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Water levels at Lake Oroville on September 8, 2015.

Photo: Florence Low, Courtesy Department Of Water Resources

Water levels at Lake Oroville in Oroville, Calif. on September 8, 2015.

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Water levels at Lake Oroville in Oroville, Calif. on September 8, 2015.

Photo: Florence Low, Courtesy Department Of Water Resources

MORE PHOTOS: See photos of the historic drought in California.

Above: Houseboats are dwarfed by the steep banks of Lake McClure on March 24, 2015 in Snelling, California. More than 3,000 residents in the Sierra Nevada foothill community of Lake Don Pedro who rely on water from Lake McCLure could run out of water in the near future if the severe drought continues. Lake McClure is currently at 7 percent of its normal capacity and residents are under mandatory 50 percent water use restrictions.

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MORE PHOTOS: See photos of the historic drought in California.

Above: Houseboats are dwarfed by the steep banks of Lake McClure on March 24, 2015 in Snelling, California. More than 3,000 residents in the Sierra

... more Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in San Diego, California. Gov. Jerry Brown has demanded a 25 percent cut in urban water useage due to a severe drought affecting much of California and the West. Everyone from Campuses, golf courses and other industrial and recreational facilities, as well as personal, home useage are specifically targeted.

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Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in San Diego, California. Gov. Jerry Brown has demanded a 25 percent cut in urban water useage due to a severe drought affecting much of California and the

... more Photo: Sandy Huffaker, Getty Images

Rolling hills viewed on April 5, 2015, near Santa Ynez, California.

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Rolling hills viewed on April 5, 2015, near Santa Ynez, California.

Photo: George Rose, Getty Images

Dry cracked earth is visible on the dry Guadalupe Creek on April 3, 2015 in San Jose, California. As California enters its fourth year of severe drought and the state's snowpack is at record lows, little water runoff is reaching reservoirs and recharge ponds that capture water and that percolates through the soil to replenish underground aquifers. California Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered a statewide 25 percent mandatory water useage reduction for residents and businesses. Significant cuts in use will be imposed on cemeteries, golf courses and facilities with large landscapes.

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Dry cracked earth is visible on the dry Guadalupe Creek on April 3, 2015 in San Jose, California. As California enters its fourth year of severe drought and the state's snowpack is at record lows, little water

... more Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

ZL Construction worker Raul Buenrostro (R) bails water out from a pool as co-worker Alex Hernandez (L) prepares to operate a jackhammer during the demolition of a swimming pool at an apartment complex on April 8, 2015 in Hayward, California. As California enters its fourth year of severe drought, some California residents are opting to have their home swimming pools removed as they face a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water use.

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ZL Construction worker Raul Buenrostro (R) bails water out from a pool as co-worker Alex Hernandez (L) prepares to operate a jackhammer during the demolition of a swimming pool at an apartment complex on April

... more Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Dan Green fills buckets with recycled water at the Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) residential recycled water fill station on April 8, 2015 in Pleasanton, California. As California enters its fourth year of severe drought, the DSRSD is allowing residents to pick up free recycled water to be used to water trees, gardens, and lawns. Residents can California residents are facing a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water use.

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Dan Green fills buckets with recycled water at the Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) residential recycled water fill station on April 8, 2015 in Pleasanton, California. As California enters its fourth

... more Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Carlos Salguero, of the Onelawn lanscaping company, installs a section of articficial lawn at a home April 3, 2015 in Burlingame, California. As California enters its fourth year of severe drought, artificial lawns have emerged as a water saving alternative to traditional lawns for Californians who are facing a mandatory 25% reduction in water use announced by California Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this week.

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Carlos Salguero, of the Onelawn lanscaping company, installs a section of articficial lawn at a home April 3, 2015 in Burlingame, California. As California enters its fourth year of severe drought, artificial

... more Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) water conservation technician Rachel Garza inspects a sprinkler system as she performs a water conservation audit of a home on April 7, 2015 in Walnut Creek, California. As California enters its fourth year of severe drought, EBMUD and water districts throughout the state are assisting customers with finding ways to reduce water use at their homes. California residents are facing a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water use.

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East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) water conservation technician Rachel Garza inspects a sprinkler system as she performs a water conservation audit of a home on April 7, 2015 in Walnut Creek,

... more Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

A sprinkler waters a lawn on April 7, 2015 in Walnut Creek, California. As California enters its fourth year of severe drought, EBMUD and water districts throughout the state are assisting customers with finding ways to reduce water use at their homes. California residents are facing a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water use.

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A sprinkler waters a lawn on April 7, 2015 in Walnut Creek, California. As California enters its fourth year of severe drought, EBMUD and water districts throughout the state are assisting customers with

... more Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in San Diego, California. Gov. Jerry Brown has demanded a 25 percent cut in urban water useage due to a severe drought affecting much of California and the West. Everyone from Campuses, golf courses and other industrial and recreational facilities, as well as personal, home useage are specifically targeted.

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Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in San Diego, California. Gov. Jerry Brown has demanded a 25 percent cut in urban water useage due to a severe drought affecting much of California and the

... more Photo: Sandy Huffaker, Getty Images

A dead fish lies on the shore next to the North Shore Yacht Club at the Salton Sea, California on March 19, 2015. California's largest lake is facing major environmental problems with a decreasing water level, increasing salinity and algae issues.

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A dead fish lies on the shore next to the North Shore Yacht Club at the Salton Sea, California on March 19, 2015. California's largest lake is facing major environmental problems with a decreasing water level,

... more Photo: MARK RALSTON, AFP/Getty Images

Foliage and flowers the extremely low waters of Lake Success in the wake of recent storms but rain totals remain insufficient to break the worsening drought on February 11, 2015 near East Porterville, California. Many local residents, whose water wells have run dry, fill their tanks with free non-potable water for flushing toilets, bathing and laundering and use bottled water for drinking and washing dishes. Many of the dry wells of 926 homes in Tulare County dried up last summer when some 17 California communities ran out of water.

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Foliage and flowers the extremely low waters of Lake Success in the wake of recent storms but rain totals remain insufficient to break the worsening drought on February 11, 2015 near East Porterville,

... more Photo: David McNew, Getty Images

California Governor Jerry Brown accompanies Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the California Department of Water Resources, as he conducts a manual snow survey April 1, 2015 in Phillips, California. The recorded level is zero, the lowest in recorded history for California. Gov. Brown went on to announce mandatory statewide water restrictions.

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California Governor Jerry Brown accompanies Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the California Department of Water Resources, as he conducts a manual snow survey April 1, 2015 in Phillips, California. The

... more Photo: Max Whittaker, Getty Images

Houseboats are dwarfed by the steep banks of Lake Don Pedro on March 24, 2015 in La Grange, California. More than 3,000 residents in the Sierra Nevada foothill community of Lake Don Pedro who rely on water from Lake McCLure could run out of water in the near future if the severe drought continues. Lake McClure is currently at 7 percent of its normal capacity and residents are under mandatory 50 percent water use restrictions.

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Houseboats are dwarfed by the steep banks of Lake Don Pedro on March 24, 2015 in La Grange, California. More than 3,000 residents in the Sierra Nevada foothill community of Lake Don Pedro who rely on water from

... more Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Weeds grow in dry cracked earth that used to be the bottom of Lake McClure on March 24, 2015 in La Grange, California. More than 3,000 residents in the Sierra Nevada foothill community of Lake Don Pedro who rely on water from Lake McCLure could run out of water in the near future if the severe drought continues. Lake McClure is currently at 7 percent of its normal capacity and residents are under mandatory 50 percent water use restrictions.

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Weeds grow in dry cracked earth that used to be the bottom of Lake McClure on March 24, 2015 in La Grange, California. More than 3,000 residents in the Sierra Nevada foothill community of Lake Don Pedro who

... more Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Houseboats are dwarfed by the steep banks of Lake Don Pedro on March 24, 2015 in La Grange, California. More than 3,000 residents in the Sierra Nevada foothill community of Lake Don Pedro who rely on water from Lake McCLure could run out of water in the near future if the severe drought continues. Lake McClure is currently at 7 percent of its normal capacity and residents are under mandatory 50 percent water use restrictions.

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Houseboats are dwarfed by the steep banks of Lake Don Pedro on March 24, 2015 in La Grange, California. More than 3,000 residents in the Sierra Nevada foothill community of Lake Don Pedro who rely on water from

... more Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has declared a "State of Emergency" and enacted mandatory water restrictions for all of California.

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Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its

... more Photo: George Rose, Getty Images

A concrete block that was used to hold a boat dock sits in dry cracked earth that used to be the bottom of Lake McClure on March 24, 2015 in La Grange, California. More than 3,000 residents in the Sierra Nevada foothill community of Lake Don Pedro who rely on water from Lake McCLure could run out of water in the near future if the severe drought continues. Lake McClure is currently at 7 percent of its normal capacity and residents are under mandatory 50 percent water use restrictions.

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A concrete block that was used to hold a boat dock sits in dry cracked earth that used to be the bottom of Lake McClure on March 24, 2015 in La Grange, California. More than 3,000 residents in the Sierra Nevada

... more Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

A fisherman fishes the low waters of Lake Success as rain totals remain insufficient to break the worsening drought on February 11, 2015 near East Porterville, California. Many local residents, whose water wells have run dry, fill their tanks with free non-potable water for flushing toilets, bathing and laundering and use bottled water for drinking and washing dishes. Many of the dry wells of 926 homes in Tulare County dried up last summer when some 17 California communities ran out of water.

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A fisherman fishes the low waters of Lake Success as rain totals remain insufficient to break the worsening drought on February 11, 2015 near East Porterville, California. Many local residents, whose water

... more Photo: David McNew, Getty Images

Foliage and flowers the extremely low waters of Lake Success in the wake of recent storms but rain totals remain insufficient to break the worsening drought on February 11, 2015 near East Porterville, California. Many local residents, whose water wells have run dry, fill their tanks with free non-potable water for flushing toilets, bathing and laundering and use bottled water for drinking and washing dishes. Many of the dry wells of 926 homes in Tulare County dried up last summer when some 17 California communities ran out of water.

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Foliage and flowers the extremely low waters of Lake Success in the wake of recent storms but rain totals remain insufficient to break the worsening drought on February 11, 2015 near East Porterville,

... more Photo: David McNew, Getty Images

Skiers ride a chairlift over dry ground at Squaw Valley Ski Resort, March 21, 2015 in Olympic Valley, California. Many Tahoe-area ski resorts have closed due to low snowfall as California's historic drought continues.

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Skiers ride a chairlift over dry ground at Squaw Valley Ski Resort, March 21, 2015 in Olympic Valley, California. Many Tahoe-area ski resorts have closed due to low snowfall as California's historic drought

... more Photo: Max Whittaker, Getty Images

A skier makes their way past dry ground at Squaw Valley Ski Resort, March 21, 2015 in Olympic Valley, California. Many Tahoe-area ski resorts have closed due to low snowfall as California's historic drought continues.

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A skier makes their way past dry ground at Squaw Valley Ski Resort, March 21, 2015 in Olympic Valley, California. Many Tahoe-area ski resorts have closed due to low snowfall as California's historic drought

... more Photo: Max Whittaker, Getty Images

Houseboats sit on blocks in a parking lot at Lake McClure on March 24, 2015 in La Grange, California. More than 3,000 residents in the Sierra Nevada foothill community of Lake Don Pedro who rely on water from Lake McCLure could run out of water in the near future if the severe drought continues. Lake McClure is currently at 7 percent of its normal capacity and residents are under mandatory 50 percent water use restrictions.

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Houseboats sit on blocks in a parking lot at Lake McClure on March 24, 2015 in La Grange, California. More than 3,000 residents in the Sierra Nevada foothill community of Lake Don Pedro who rely on water from

... more Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Water depth markers stand on a section of Lake Don Pedro that used to be under water on March 24, 2015 in La Grange, California. More than 3,000 residents in the Sierra Nevada foothill community of Lake Don Pedro who rely on water from Lake McCLure could run out of water in the near future if the severe drought continues. Lake McClure is currently at 7 percent of its normal capacity and residents are under mandatory 50 percent water use restrictions.

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Water depth markers stand on a section of Lake Don Pedro that used to be under water on March 24, 2015 in La Grange, California. More than 3,000 residents in the Sierra Nevada foothill community of Lake Don

... more Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) water conservation technician Rachel Garza (R) inspects a water meter with home owners Michael Shain (L) and Sheila Shain (C) during a water conservation audit of a home on April 7, 2015 in Walnut Creek, California. As California enters its fourth year of severe drought, EBMUD and water districts throughout the state are assisting customers with finding ways to reduce water use at their homes. California residents are facing a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water use.

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East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) water conservation technician Rachel Garza (R) inspects a water meter with home owners Michael Shain (L) and Sheila Shain (C) during a water conservation audit of a

... more Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Water drips from a faucet at the Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) residential recycled water fill station on April 8, 2015 in Pleasanton, California. As California enters its fourth year of severe drought, the DSRSD is allowing residents to pick up free recycled water to be used to water trees, gardens, and lawns. Residents can California residents are facing a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water use.

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Water drips from a faucet at the Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) residential recycled water fill station on April 8, 2015 in Pleasanton, California. As California enters its fourth year of severe

... more Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered the first mandatory, statewide water cutbacks by cities and towns as the state's nearly 40 million people head into a fourth summer of severe drought.

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Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered the first mandatory, statewide water cutbacks by cities and towns as the state's nearly 40 million people head into a fourth summer of severe drought.

Photo: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, and Gov. Jerry Brown walk across a dry meadow that is usually covered in several inches of snow as conducts the snow survey, near Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Gehrke said this was the first time since he has been conducting the survey that he found no snow at this location at this time of the year.

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Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, and Gov. Jerry Brown walk across a dry meadow that is usually covered in several inches of snow as

... more Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

A snowboarder threads his way through patches of dirt at Squaw Valley Ski Resort in Olympic Valley. Many Tahoe-area ski resorts have closed due to low snowfall as California's historic drought continues.

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A snowboarder threads his way through patches of dirt at Squaw Valley Ski Resort in Olympic Valley. Many Tahoe-area ski resorts have closed due to low snowfall as California's historic drought continues.

Photo: Max Whittaker

Ski lift chairs sit idle at shuttered Soda Springs on Wednesday, March 18, 2015, in Soda Springs, Calif. Warm Winter weather has sped up the closure of several Tahoe area ski resorts - including Soda Springs - following a promising start to the season. The drought is also forcing resort operators to find new attractions to lure tourists.

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Ski lift chairs sit idle at shuttered Soda Springs on Wednesday, March 18, 2015, in Soda Springs, Calif. Warm Winter weather has sped up the closure of several Tahoe area ski resorts - including Soda Springs -

... more Photo: Randy Pench, Associated Press

John Silva crowds Chinook salmon smolts towards the pick-up tube while loading them onto a large truck for transport down river to Rio Vista as part of the second year of a special contingency plan to keep the salmon alive from around the Central Valley through the drought March 26, 2015 at the Coleman National Fish Hatchery in Anderson, Calif.

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John Silva crowds Chinook salmon smolts towards the pick-up tube while loading them onto a large truck for transport down river to Rio Vista as part of the second year of a special contingency plan to keep the

... more Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle

A section of the Barrett Bridge that was demolished after the Yosemite Valley Railraod went out of service in 1945 is visible as Lake McClure water levels decline on March 24, 2015 in La Grange, California. More than 3,000 residents in the Sierra Nevada foothill community of Lake Don Pedro who rely on water from Lake McCLure could run out of water in the near future if the severe drought continues.

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A section of the Barrett Bridge that was demolished after the Yosemite Valley Railraod went out of service in 1945 is visible as Lake McClure water levels decline on March 24, 2015 in La Grange, California.

... more Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

California Parks Superintendent Ryen Goering walks up the slope of Mount Diablo towards a stand of dying pines Monday March 23, 2015. A large number of Coulter Pines are dying and stressed on the eastern slopes of Mount Diablo in Clayon, Calif. because of the drought and bark beetles.

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California Parks Superintendent Ryen Goering walks up the slope of Mount Diablo towards a stand of dying pines Monday March 23, 2015. A large number of Coulter Pines are dying and stressed on the eastern slopes

... more Photo: Brant Ward / The Chronicle

Groundskeeper Sanjay Ram, right,of the Department of General Services, waters plants lining the sidewalk around the state Capitol Tuesday, July 8, 2014, in Sacramento, Calif. State water regulators are considering fines up to $500 for excessive water use for things like irrigating lawns and car washing due to the state's severe drought. State officials say conservation efforts so far aren't producing enough results.

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Groundskeeper Sanjay Ram, right,of the Department of General Services, waters plants lining the sidewalk around the state Capitol Tuesday, July 8, 2014, in Sacramento, Calif. State water regulators are

... more Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

A firefighter pulls a hose in position while battling the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a dangerous year of wildfires in this third year of extreme drought in California.

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A firefighter pulls a hose in position while battling the Cocos fire on May 15, 2014 in San Marcos, California. Fire agencies throughout the state are scrambling to prepare for what is expected to be a

... more Photo: David McNew, Getty Images

Santa Rosa resident Alexander Oceguera talks with, from left clockwise, Kelsey Merian of Windsor, Roxanne Zettler of Point Arena and Christina Mertensotto of Santa Rosa in a drought ravaged Russian River, Tuesday, May 13, 2014 at Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach in Healdsburg, Calif. A heat wave gripped California compounding the critical drought conditions across the state.

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Santa Rosa resident Alexander Oceguera talks with, from left clockwise, Kelsey Merian of Windsor, Roxanne Zettler of Point Arena and Christina Mertensotto of Santa Rosa in a drought ravaged Russian River,

... more Photo: Kent Porter, Associated Press

Utility systems operator Joseph Overman checks on a leaking irrigation system at the home of Jackie Shurtleff, in Pleasanton, CA, Friday May 16, 2014. The city of Pleasanton has made it mandatory for it's residents to comply with a 25 percent reduction in water usage to help combat persisting drought conditions.

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Utility systems operator Joseph Overman checks on a leaking irrigation system at the home of Jackie Shurtleff, in Pleasanton, CA, Friday May 16, 2014. The city of Pleasanton has made it mandatory for it's

... more Photo: Michael Short, The Chronicle

A woman works among drought-tolerant plants in her front yard Wednesday, July 9, 2014, in San Diego. Wasting water outdoors amid the state's drought will begin hitting Californians in the wallet under new restrictions being proposed by state regulators, with fines of up to $500 a day for overwatering front lawns or washing a car without a nozzle on the hose.

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A woman works among drought-tolerant plants in her front yard Wednesday, July 9, 2014, in San Diego. Wasting water outdoors amid the state's drought will begin hitting Californians in the wallet under new

... more Photo: Gregory Bull, Associated Press

Young Steelhead Trout at dumped from a California Department of Fish and Wildlife tanker trunk into the American River on June 18, 2014 in Rancho Cordova, California. California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials are evacuating young Steelhead Trout out of the Nimbus and American River hatcheries and into the American River due to a decline in the hatcheries' water supply from Lake Natomas. The warming weather has increased the temperature of the water and officials are concerned that the rising temperature could reach a level that is intolerable for young growing fish. Both hatcheries will be empty until October.

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Young Steelhead Trout at dumped from a California Department of Fish and Wildlife tanker trunk into the American River on June 18, 2014 in Rancho Cordova, California. California Department of Fish and Wildlife

... more Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

In this Feb. 4, 2014 file photo, a warning buoy sits on the dry, cracked bed of Lake Mendocino near Ukiah, Calif. The Legislature will revisit overhauling an $11.1 billion water bond measure that is scheduled to go before voters in November, when they return from a month long summer recess. Facing one of he most severe droughts in the state's history, lawmakers are negotiating a deal that funds projects that increases water supply and availability.

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In this Feb. 4, 2014 file photo, a warning buoy sits on the dry, cracked bed of Lake Mendocino near Ukiah, Calif. The Legislature will revisit overhauling an $11.1 billion water bond measure that is

... more Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has declared a "State of Emergency" and enacted mandatory water restrictions for all of California.

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Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its

... more Photo: George Rose, Getty Images

Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has declared a "State of Emergency" and enacted mandatory water restrictions for all of California.

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Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its

... more Photo: George Rose, Getty Images

Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has declared a "State of Emergency" and enacted mandatory water restrictions for all of California.

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Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its

... more Photo: George Rose, Getty Images

Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has declared a "State of Emergency" and enacted mandatory water restrictions for all of California.

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Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its

... more Photo: George Rose, Getty Images

A smattering of snow can be found along California Highway 88 near Carson Pass on April 12, 2015, near South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has declared a "State of Emergency" and enacted mandatory water restrictions for all of California.

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A smattering of snow can be found along California Highway 88 near Carson Pass on April 12, 2015, near South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has

... more Photo: George Rose, Getty Images

Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has declared a "State of Emergency" and enacted mandatory water restrictions for all of California.

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Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its

... more Photo: George Rose, Getty Images

The sun rises along California Highway 88 near Carson Pass on April 12, 2015, near South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has declared a "State of Emergency" and enacted mandatory water restrictions for all of California.

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The sun rises along California Highway 88 near Carson Pass on April 12, 2015, near South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has declared a "State of

... more Photo: George Rose, Getty Images

The west fork of the Carson River is viewed flowing through Hope Valley on April 12, 2015, near South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has declared a "State of Emergency" and enacted mandatory water restrictions for all of California.

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The west fork of the Carson River is viewed flowing through Hope Valley on April 12, 2015, near South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has declared a

... more Photo: George Rose, Getty Images

A smattering of snow can be found along California Highway 88 near Carson Pass on April 12, 2015, near South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has declared a "State of Emergency" and enacted mandatory water restrictions for all of California.

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A smattering of snow can be found along California Highway 88 near Carson Pass on April 12, 2015, near South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has

... more Photo: George Rose, Getty Images

Red Lake, located along California Highway 88, is viewed on April 12, 2015, near South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has declared a "State of Emergency" and enacted mandatory water restrictions for all of California.

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Red Lake, located along California Highway 88, is viewed on April 12, 2015, near South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has declared a "State of

... more Photo: George Rose, Getty Images

A skiers threads his way through patches of dry ground at Squaw Valley Ski Resort, March 21, 2015 in Olympic Valley, California. Many Tahoe-area ski resorts have closed due to low snowfall as California's historic drought continues.

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A skiers threads his way through patches of dry ground at Squaw Valley Ski Resort, March 21, 2015 in Olympic Valley, California. Many Tahoe-area ski resorts have closed due to low snowfall as California's

... more Photo: Max Whittaker, Getty Images

Skiers ride a chairlift over dry ground at Squaw Valley Ski Resort, March 21, 2015 in Olympic Valley, California. Many Tahoe-area ski resorts have closed due to low snowfall as California's historic drought continues.

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Skiers ride a chairlift over dry ground at Squaw Valley Ski Resort, March 21, 2015 in Olympic Valley, California. Many Tahoe-area ski resorts have closed due to low snowfall as California's historic drought

... more Photo: Max Whittaker, Getty Images

Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has declared a "State of Emergency" and enacted mandatory water restrictions for all of California.

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Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its

... more Photo: George Rose, Getty Images

Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has declared a "State of Emergency" and enacted mandatory water restrictions for all of California.

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Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its

... more Photo: George Rose, Getty Images

Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has declared a "State of Emergency" and enacted mandatory water restrictions for all of California.

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Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its

... more Photo: George Rose, Getty Images

Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its fourth year, Governor Jerry "Edmund" Brown has declared a "State of Emergency" and enacted mandatory water restrictions for all of California.

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Without a series of Pacific storms reaching this famous high-elevation lake resort, water levels are reaching record lows as viewed on April 12, 2015, in South Lake Tahoe, California. As the drought enters its

... more Photo: George Rose, Getty Images

Rain from a recent storm floods the irrigation ditches around the trees on a farm in Tulare County, giving the farmer a little break from the drought April 7, 2015.

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Rain from a recent storm floods the irrigation ditches around the trees on a farm in Tulare County, giving the farmer a little break from the drought April 7, 2015.

Photo: Mark Boster, LA Times Via Getty Images

South of Bakersfield off Hwy 99 and Mettler Frontage Road, farmworkers adjust the sprinkler coverage during the early morning hours at Valpredo Farms April 6, 2015

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South of Bakersfield off Hwy 99 and Mettler Frontage Road, farmworkers adjust the sprinkler coverage during the early morning hours at Valpredo Farms April 6, 2015

Photo: Mark Boster, LA Times Via Getty Images

In this Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 photo, Trent Lukaczyk, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) engineer who builds and flies drones to monitor changes in the ocean environment, sets up a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced drone to take photos and videos over the coastline in Pacifica, Calif. Starting this month, The Nature Conservancy is asking tech junkies to capture the flooding and coastal erosion that come with El Nino, a weather pattern thats bringing California its wettest winter in years, and all in the name of science.

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In this Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 photo, Trent Lukaczyk, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) engineer who builds and flies drones to monitor changes in the ocean environment, sets up a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced drone

... more Photo: Jeff Chiu, AP

This January 20, 2015 photo provided by The Nature Conservancy shows Twin Lakes Beach in Santa Cruz, Calif. and Schwann Lagoon, the body of water on the right. The Nature Conservancy an environmental group in California is recruiting drone hobbyists to map flooding and coastal damage after El Nino storms with the idea that the images will help predict what the future coastline will look like as sea levels rise from global warming. (Matt Merrifield/The Nature Conservancy via AP)

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This January 20, 2015 photo provided by The Nature Conservancy shows Twin Lakes Beach in Santa Cruz, Calif. and Schwann Lagoon, the body of water on the right. The Nature Conservancy an environmental group in

... more Photo: Matt Merrifield, AP

This Jan. 7, 2016 photo provided by The Nature Conservancy shows the San Lorenzo River overflowing around the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, an oceanfront amusement park in Santa Cruz, Caif. The Nature Conservancy an environmental group in California is recruiting drone hobbyists to map flooding and coastal damage after El Nino storms with the idea that the images will help predict what the future coastline will look like as sea levels rise from global warming. (Matt Merrifield via AP)

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This Jan. 7, 2016 photo provided by The Nature Conservancy shows the San Lorenzo River overflowing around the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, an oceanfront amusement park in Santa Cruz, Caif. The Nature Conservancy

... more Photo: Matt Merrifield, AP

In this Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 photo, Trent Lukaczyk, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) engineer who builds and flies drones to monitor changes in the ocean environment, controls a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced drone to take photos and videos over the coastline in Pacifica, Calif. Starting this month, The Nature Conservancy is asking tech junkies to capture the flooding and coastal erosion that come with El Nino, a weather pattern thats bringing California its wettest winter in years, and all in the name of science.

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In this Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 photo, Trent Lukaczyk, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) engineer who builds and flies drones to monitor changes in the ocean environment, controls a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced drone

... more Photo: Jeff Chiu, AP

In this Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 photo, Trent Lukaczyk, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) engineer who builds and flies drones to monitor changes in the ocean environment, controls a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced drone to take photos and videos over the coastline in Pacifica, Calif. Starting this month, The Nature Conservancy is asking tech junkies to capture the flooding and coastal erosion that come with El Nino, a weather pattern thats bringing California its wettest winter in years _ and all in the name of science.

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In this Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 photo, Trent Lukaczyk, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) engineer who builds and flies drones to monitor changes in the ocean environment, controls a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced drone

... more Photo: Jeff Chiu, AP

This Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 drone photo provided by Trent Lukaczyk shows Rockaway Beach during a mapping flight by a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced drone to take photos of the coastline in Pacifica, Calif. Lukaczyk, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) engineer, builds and flies drones to monitor changes in the ocean environment. Starting this month, The Nature Conservancy is asking tech junkies to capture the flooding and coastal erosion that come with El Nino, a weather pattern thats bringing California its wettest winter in years, and all in the name of science. (Trent Lukaczyk via AP)

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This Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 drone photo provided by Trent Lukaczyk shows Rockaway Beach during a mapping flight by a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced drone to take photos of the coastline in Pacifica, Calif. Lukaczyk,

... more Photo: Trent Lukaczyk, AP

In this Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 photo, Trent Lukaczyk, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) engineer who builds and flies drones to monitor changes in the ocean environment, creates a mission for a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced drone to take photos over the coastline in Pacifica, Calif. Starting this month, The Nature Conservancy is asking tech junkies to capture the flooding and coastal erosion that come with El Nino, a weather pattern thats bringing California its wettest winter in years, and all in the name of science.

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In this Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 photo, Trent Lukaczyk, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) engineer who builds and flies drones to monitor changes in the ocean environment, creates a mission for a DJI Phantom 3

... more Photo: Jeff Chiu, AP

This Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 drone photo provided by Trent Lukaczyk shows Rockaway Beach during a mapping flight by a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced drone to take photos of the coastline in Pacifica, Calif. Lukaczyk, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) engineer, builds and flies drones to monitor changes in the ocean environment. Starting this month, The Nature Conservancy is asking tech junkies to capture the flooding and coastal erosion that come with El Nino, a weather pattern thats bringing California its wettest winter in years, and all in the name of science. (Trent Lukaczyk via AP)

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This Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 drone photo provided by Trent Lukaczyk shows Rockaway Beach during a mapping flight by a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced drone to take photos of the coastline in Pacifica, Calif. Lukaczyk,

... more Photo: Trent Lukaczyk, AP

This Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 drone photo provided by Trent Lukaczyk shows Rockaway Beach during a mapping flight by a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced drone to take photos of the coastline in Pacifica, Calif. Lukaczyk, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) engineer, builds and flies drones to monitor changes in the ocean environment. Starting this month, The Nature Conservancy is asking tech junkies to capture the flooding and coastal erosion that come with El Nino, a weather pattern thats bringing California its wettest winter in years, and all in the name of science. (Trent Lukaczyk via AP)

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This Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 drone photo provided by Trent Lukaczyk shows Rockaway Beach during a mapping flight by a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced drone to take photos of the coastline in Pacifica, Calif. Lukaczyk,

... more Photo: Trent Lukaczyk, AP

'Citizen scientists' use drones to map El Nino flooding

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) Forget about selfies. In California, residents are using smartphones and drones to document the coastline's changing face.

Starting this month, The Nature Conservancy is asking tech junkies to capture the flooding and coastal erosion that come with El Nino, a weather pattern that's bringing California its wettest winter in years and all in the name of science.

The idea is that crowd-sourced, geotagged images of storm surges and flooded beaches will give scientists a brief window into what the future holds as sea levels rise from global warming, a sort of a crystal ball for climate change.

Images from the latest drones, which can produce high-resolution 3D maps, will be particularly useful and will help scientists determine if predictive models about coastal flooding are accurate, said Matt Merrifield, the organization's chief technology officer.

"We use these projected models and they don't quite look right, but we're lacking any empirical evidence," he said. "This is essentially a way of 'ground truthing' those models."

Experts on climate change agreed that El Nino-fueled storms offer a sneak peak of the future and said the project was a novel way to raise public awareness. Because of its crowd-sourced nature, however, they cautioned the experiment might not yield all the results organizers hoped for, although any additional information is useful.

"It's not the answer, but it's a part of the answer," said Lesley Ewing, senior coastal engineer with the California Coastal Commission. "It's a piece of the puzzle."

In California, nearly a half-million people, $100 billion in property and critical infrastructure such as schools, power plants and highways will be at risk of inundation during a major storm if sea level rises another 4.6 feet a figure that could become a reality by 2100, according to a 2009 Pacific Institute study commissioned by three state agencies.

Beaches that Californians take for granted will become much smaller or disappear altogether and El Nino-fueled storms will have a similar effect, if only temporarily, said William Patzert, a climatologist for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"When you get big winter storm surge like they want to document, you tend to lose a lot of beach," he said. "In a way, it's like doing a documentary on the future. It'll show you what your beaches will look like in 100 years."

What the mapping won't be able to predict is exactly which beaches will disappear and which bluffs will crumble all things that will affect how flooding impacts coastal populations, said Ewing, the California Coastal Commission engineer.

"We're not going to capture that change," she said. "We're going to capture where the water could go to with this current landscape and that's still a very important thing to understand because it gets at those hot spots."

So far, project organizers aren't giving assignments to participants, although they may send out specific requests as the winter unfolds, said Merrifield.

If users wind up mapping real-time flooding events along 10 or 15 percent of California's 840-mile-long coastline the project will be a success, he said. A realistic goal is a "curated selection" of 3D maps showing flooding up and down the coast at different dates and times.

The Nature Conservancy has partnered with a San Francisco-area startup called DroneDeploy that will provide a free app to drone owners for consistency. The app will provide automated flight patterns at the touch of a screen while cloud-based technology will make managing so much data feasible, said Ian Smith, a business developer for the company.

Trent Lukaczyk heard about the experiment from a posting in a Facebook group dedicated to drone enthusiasts. For the aerospace engineer, who has already used drones to map coral reefs in American Samoa, the volunteer work was appealing.

"It's a really exciting application. It's not just something to take a selfie with," he said, before heading out to collect images of beach erosion after a storm in Pacifica, California.

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Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus

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