The percentage of the state considered to be in the worst stages of drought has nearly vanished but experts warn that the drought is still not over. Photo: USDM
Amid a flurry of winter storms that have sent some of California’s lakes and snowpacks surging past 100 percent of normal levels, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) voted yesterday to continue with extended water regulations through at least May.
Leading up to the Wednesday vote there was a possibility that the board could have reverted back to stricter regulations that were lifted in the early part of 2016 that imposed water conservation goals on local water suppliers, instead, it extended less stringent guidelines that had been in place since May that require only those suppliers without enough water to last through three more dry years to meet mandates.
“These regulations have helped Californians rise to the occasion and show what they can do with conservation, while providing flexibility based on differing local water supply conditions across the state,” said SWRCB Chair Felicia Marcus. “We are beyond happy that water conditions continue to improve this year, but the rainy season isn’t over yet and some areas of the state continue to suffer significant drought impacts.”
Less than one percent of the state is now considered to be in the worst stages of drought as defined by the United States Drought Monitor, which collects and distributes data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States Department of Agriculture, the National Drought Mitigation Center and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
That figure stands in stark contrast to where the state was last year at the same time when nearly all of the state was considered to be mired in the worst stages of drought.
The re-adoption of the existing measures, which require “sensible prohibitions” on wasteful water practices and reporting of water usage, but does not set mandates, will be reevaluated in May, when they could be modified up or down or rescinded completely depending on statewide water supply conditions.
In a blog post on the NOAA’s website, Deke Arndt, the climate monitoring chief at the NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information writes that despite all the water that has been dumped on the western United States, droughts are not extinguished in a short period of time.
“Drought sits on the slow end of the time scale, relative to weather systems represented by symbols on weather maps,” Arndt wrote. “It’s described over weeks, months, seasons (probably the sweet spot), years and decades. That’s some range.”
He added that while some things respond quicker to quick bursts of rainfall—wildfire risk and agriculture—actual water supply changes take more time to recover, something that’s best measured in years, not months.
He notes that despite larger than normal snowpacks that were delivered by the series of winter storms, the groundwater supply has not had time to benefit from the recent rainfall, and when it does, it will hardly touch the amount of water that’s been pumped out of the aquifers over the past five to six years that the drought has slogged on.
Long story short, it has been raining and that’s a good thing. However, one good rainy season will not undo the years of damage carried out by the last half decade of dry-spells.
The Long Beach Water Department is still maintaining Stage I water supply shortage which includes three-day limitations for watering landscaping during the Summer months, curtails the allowable hours for watering outside to between 9AM and 4PM and prohibits watering outside within 48 hours of measurable rainfall among other things.
The department posted a reminder to consumers on social media that despite the rain the drought is not over and encouraged them to continue conserving water.
“Reservoirs may be full, but the drought isn’t over,” the department wrote in a Twitter post. “Keep up all our water efficient habits.”