A year ago, news outlets warned drier conditions brought on by global warming would make California’s six-year drought “permanent.”
But one weekend of intense storms dumped 350 billion gallons of water into California reservoirs, effectively ending the statewide drought. After more weeks with rain and snow, eight of 10 major state reservoirs are well above average, meaning they no longer need customers to conserve water.
“California is a dry state and probably always will be in most years, but we certainly don’t have a statewide drought right now,” Jay Lund, the director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis, told the East Bay Times in January.
The most recent data shows 41 percent of California is no longer in drought, up from zero percent last February. Less than 1 percent of the state is in “extreme drought” and less than 11 percent is in “severe drought.”
“In California, the cumulative effect of several months of abundant precipitation has significantly improved drought conditions across the state,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
“Nearly all of California’s major reservoirs are currently above historical average levels with the state’s two largest reservoirs, Oroville and Shasta, currently at 126% and 124%, respectively,” according to the monitor. “To date, the statewide percent of normal snow water equivalent sits at an impressive 176%.”
Last February, 61 percent of California was in “extreme drought.” In fact, every region of California was in drought in early 2016. Those dire figures inspire headlines about the “unending” drought gripping the West Coast.
“California Braces for Unending Drought,” The New York Times reported in May 2016, citing Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to indefinitely keep in place statewide water conservation measures. Brown also order state agencies to “prepare for a future made drier by climate change,” the Times reported.
“Thanks El Niño, But California’s Drought Is Probably Forever,” Wired reported that same month reporting on Brown’s indefinite water restrictions.
“Now we know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life,” Brown said in his 2016 statement extending water restrictions.
National Geographic reported “this one’s different” in a 2015 article on California’s drought. The article also mentioned the multitude of California residents who ripped up their lawns and cut their water use to comply with drought rules, featuring images of drought “inspectors” looking for the source of leaks and such.
California has a long, well-documented history of droughts. The state went through a major drought in the 1970s and Brown — yes, he was governor then too — imposed emergency measures then as well. Though, climatologist blamed that drought on a “cooling cycle.”
A don’t forget the “Dust Bowl” droughts of the 1930s. Those droughts spurred the construction of more extensive water systems in the state, which proved really helpful when the 1947-1950 hit and again during the 1959-1960 drought.
Scientists have found evidence California suffered through “mega-droughts” long before European settlers arrived in the 18th Century. The big difference now, is that California is home to nearly 40 million people.
California will probably always have drought problems, with or without man-made global warming, especially if its population keeps growing at a rapid rate. Drought can return in any given year. More water storage and infrastructure is probably needed to cope with future droughts.
Water regulators recently extended Brown’s water conservation measures — even though they are largely symbolic at this point. Officials want to make sure the state is prepared if another drought hits as the weather warms.
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