LOS ANGELES, CA — After years of brown lawns, and millions of dead trees, California has finally reached a point where most of the state is officially drought-free.
The state’s snowpack is now at 193 percent the average for this time of year compared to two years ago when the snowpack was well under 10 percent come spring — the most diminished snowpack in centuries. The apparent end of the drought across much of the state has officials debating whether to halt the mandatory conservation measures Californians have grown accustomed to.
A series of atmospheric rivers brought a conveyor belt of storms that dumped record rainfall and snow to communities across the state in a January. As a result, 61 percent of the state is officially drought-free, and for the first time in two years, no part of the state is under the “exceptional drought” category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
“We’re finally seeing enough precipitation falling to make a significant dent,” said Richard Tinker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
This week the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors declared an end to the drought in the southernmost part of the state, calling for the statewide emergency water-use regulations to be lifted in areas of California that are no longer facing a drought.
“Telling the public to continue extraordinary, emergency conservation measures when the drought emergency no longer exists undermines the credibility of state and local water agencies and erodes the effectiveness of communications during actual water supply emergencies,” said Mark Muir, chairman of the San Diego Water Authority’s board.
State water officials are expected to decide early next month whether to extend the measures, which are scheduled to expire at the end of February.
However, the most populous part of the state is still deep in drought despite a January with rainfall well above normal. Much of Ventura County and pockets of Los Angeles, Kern and Santa Barbara remain in “extreme drought” while the counties from Orange to San Joaquin remain in severe to moderate drought.
Atmospheric rivers have funneled a series of storms across California bringing rainfall and snow levels to well above average, but reservoirs in many parts of the state are far from full.
Water officials and climatologists remain cautiously optimistic. Even during the recent drought years, California had strong starts to the rainy season only to see the storms fizzle and the winter end with reservoirs as low as ever. Other times, unusually warm conditions caused the snowpack to melt too quickly to adequately replenish the state’s water supply.
There are still three months left in the state’s rainy season and reason to hope that the remainder of the state could become drought-free.
Until California is completely out of drought, there are measures you can take to help conserve water. Monitor weather forecasts and be sure to turn off automatic sprinklers before the next storm. You can also make use of a rain barrel, taking advantage of rebates offered by most water districts.