The desert pops with color during a rare super bloom near Palm Springs.
California is completely drought free for the first time since 2011 as a wet winter winds down, scientists said.
Abnormally dry conditions linger in less than 7 percent of California, the U.S. Drought Monitor said on Thursday, as storms have filled reservoirs, built snow pack and improved soil moisture. The state had experienced some form of drought for 376 consecutive weeks, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center.
Parts of Southern California are drier than normal, the drought monitor said in its weekly report, because of prior years of little rain, but none qualify as having drought conditions. Reservoirs in San Diego County are only at 65 percent capacity.
While Newsha Ajami, Stanford University’s Director of Urban Water Policy, described the drought report and this winter’s rain and snow as exciting, she said they are not signs for a wet future.
“If we have a few more years of this, then maybe our groundwater conditions will be in a much better shape and we might be in a better shape to deal with another potential drought, which will come,” Ajami said. “California has a Mediterranean climate so we do experience a lot of ups and downs in our weather conditions.”
Multiple years of dry periods back to back, Ajami said, can cause drought conditions. The water year before the drought began in December 2011, Ajami said California recorded rainy, snowy and cool conditions similar to the way it did this year.
Record hot and dry years thereafter led then-Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a drought state of emergency. Between 2010 and 2016, more than 102 million state trees died on 7.7 million acres of the forest, the U.S. Forest Service said.
The state only ended executive orders for water restrictions in 2017, when less than 9 percent of the state recorded drought conditions. But at the start of 2019, more than 75 percent of the state experienced some level of drought.
Above average amounts of rain and snow since have boosted water supplies and the the snowpack in mountain ranges including the Sierra Nevada, where the state recorded levels 153 percent of average at the end of February. Wildflowers have also blossomed in Southern California because of the rain.
But downpours have also triggered mudslides and flooding, including in areas burned by recent wildfires. Rain transformed the Sonoma County wine country town of Guerneville into an island and caused millions in damage to highways in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Los Angeles.
As the capital reports 126 percent of normal rain levels, according to the National Weather Service’s Sacramento office Wednesday, the situation is far different from when state campaigns encouraged residents to let their lawns “fade to gold for the summer.”
Regardless of current drought conditions, Ajami said, conserving water and using the resource efficiently and consciously should be an everyday practice.
“The reality is we will be going in and out of drought over time,” Ajami said. “We can’t waste water for purposes that are not necessary.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/03/15/california-drought-free-after-7-years-dry-conditions-remain/3168753002/