Governor Jerry Brown issued a drought declaration in January 2014, the driest year in recorded state history.
Brown directed state officials to take all necessary actions to ameliorate the drought conditions, including state mandated water conservation measures.
Since then the drought has remained in effect throughout the state of California.
But a rainier winter that includes a heavier snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains than has been seen in several years may have spelled an end to the drought, at least in Northern California.
The state Water Resources Control Board announced on its website on Jan. 4 that since state-mandated conservation targets had been met, with the cumulative statewide water savings through volunteer water conservation from June 2015 through November 2016 at 22.6 percent, together with higher than average rainfall, there remained hope the drought was finally easing.
This year, storm after storm has pummeled Central and Northern California denting, if not erasing, the multiyear drought, according to The Washington Post.
The Post further explained that excessive amounts of rain resulted from a configuration of “atmospheric rivers” (narrow but intense streams of moisture sourced from the tropics; equivalent to 26 Mississippi Rivers), pointed at the Golden State, resulting in a soggy winter season.
The federal government’s National Drought Mitigation Center’s U.S. Drought Monitor website unofficially declared that the northern third of the state is now entirely drought-free, stating that reservoirs are filled and streams are flush with water — at or near record flows.
Nevertheless, despite the recent heavy battering of Northern California, until Governor Brown rescinds his declaration the state remains officially in drought conditions, said George Kostyrko, director of the Office of Public Affairs, State Water Resources Control Board.
Even when the governor announces that the drought in the North State is over, Kostyrko said that Southern California would remain in severe drought conditions — despite receiving increased precipitation compared to past years.
The WRCB noted that from October through December, rains in Northern California provided an encouraging start to the 2016-2017 winter season.
Moreover, measurements by the WRCB indicate that the statewide snowpack is about 70 percent of average for early January.
Because two-thirds of the state has not recovered from the severe drought conditions that have persisted for the past four years, the WRCB stressed the need for continued conservation efforts given that the statewide snowpack is still below its historic average despite recent storms.
Regionally, local weather spotter Dale Knutsen said that January in the Lake Almanor Basin had received 92 inches of new snowfall, bringing the season total to 127.5 inches; that figure is 176 percent of average for this point in the season “and is within a half inch of our average annual snowfall,” said Knutsen.
Total precipitation (rain plus the water content of snow) was even more impressive, Knutsen added, with 13.05 inches at the Prattville monitoring site, for a season total of 34.30 inches.
“That’s 191 percent of average for the end of January, and actually a bit more than our average annual total precipitation,” beating the state average, he added.
The WRCB stated that it will continue to monitor conservation levels and water supply conditions, and will present a staff proposal to extend emergency conservation regulations that may include a return to state-mandated conservation targets if dry conditions return or if conservation levels slip significantly.