Is California's drought finally over?

March 1, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
California's drought is officially over, but the concern about our water supply is not and probably never will be. Although the recent rain has helped ease the immediate worry, we are all still being encouraged to conserve.

With measurements showing the water content in the Sierra snowpack at 124 percent of normal, the California Department of Water Resources says hydrologically, the state's drought is over.

But the drought proclamation former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed in 2008 during the state's third dry year is still in effect, and Gov. Jerry Brown has no immediate plans to revoke it. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows no part of California abnormally dry.

Some environmental groups say it's time to revisit the issue.

"I don't think you use emergency measures when there isn't an emergency," said Gary Bobker with The Bay Institute. "I think that the problem with that is it's a little bit of crying wolf and allows you to circumvent the rules."

However, in California, droughts are not just about weather patterns, they are also about the state's aging water infrastructure. Some parts of the state have a water shortage because it's difficult to get water to them, no matter how wet it's been. For that reason, farmers hope the drought declaration is kept in place so that Californians continue to conserve. That way there will be water when the state figures out how to deliver it to parched areas.

"We still have areas of the state, significant parts of our agricultural economy, that are receiving half of their projected water supplies," said Mike Wade with the California Farm Water Coalition. "So we certainly cannot say that the drought is over."

While the state wrestles with whether to lift the drought declaration, some local water agencies are looking at their brimming reservoirs and wondering if water restrictions make sense anymore.

"We're looking at probably recommending that we lift restrictions. That's because we've refilled our storage," said Jeff Kightlinger with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The last snow survey of the year is April 1, which will give the Brown administration a better picture of California's water situation until next winter.


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