Just a few months ago, millions of people in California were living under challenging water conservation rules. The past three years were the driest on record and reservoirs were depleted, landscapes dried up, and the snowpack in the Sierras at very low levels.
But in recent months, a dozen atmospheric river storms have brought huge amounts of rain and snow to the state. Twelve out of 17 major reservoirs in the state have been replenished, the snowpack is over 240% of normal, and brown hills are blooming once again.
So, is the California drought over? According to the experts, the answer is: sort of.
The record snowpack and heavy rains have erased the most severe aspects of the drought in many parts of the state. Only 9% of the state is now experiencing “severe” or “exceptional” drought, down from 55% last fall.
But the changes are basically all at the surface. Groundwater in the state is still extremely low and the state’s cities and farms are still using more of it than is appropriate. The state has been unwisely overusing its groundwater aquifers because of the drought and this one year of heavy rains cannot replenish levels that have been dropping for years.
California has been rolling back many of the most severe drought restrictions that had been imposed but has not entirely lifted the drought emergency status. Meanwhile, the massive snowpack in the mountains will begin to melt as the weather warms and, in many areas, Californians will face flooding. Water is a complicated business in California.
Photo, posted August 28, 2019, courtesy of Joyce Cory via Flickr.