Californians Conserved Plenty of Water, but Drought There Isn’t Over

NASA satellite imagery shows the difference in California’s snow levels between March 2015 and March 2016.

National Weather Service

NASA satellite imagery shows the difference in California’s snow levels between March 2015 and March 2016.

Californians didn’t quite achieve Gov. Jerry Brown’s call for a 25 percent reduction in residential water use, but they came close.

After nine months of water conservation, residents cut consumption by 23.9 percent, saving 1.19 million acre-feet of water, the Los Angeles Times reported last week. That’s enough to supply 6 million Californians for a year.

“Twenty-four percent savings shows enormous effort and a recognition that everyone’s effort matters,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, in a statement. “Californians rose to the occasion, reducing irrigation, fixing leaks, taking shorter showers, and saving our precious water resources in all sorts of ways.”

The Golden State has been throttled by four years of unrelenting drought, before a Pacific El Niño weather pattern brought some relief over this past winter. Still, this El Niño wasn’t as prolific a snow-maker as was originally predicted, particularly in the southern part of the state.

Snow surveyors for the Department of Water Resources found that the water content of the Sierra snow is only 87 percent of the historical average for this time of year. That’s a big drop from January when the snowpack was well above normal.

Frank Gehrke, the chief of cooperative snow surveys, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the amount of snow in the Sierra is “a big improvement” over last year, “but not what we had hoped for. It’s better than we were. Let’s put it that way.”

California water officials said earlier in the year that the snowpack needed to be at least 150 percent of normal on April 1 for the drought to be considered over. That obviously didn’t happen.

Water managers along the Colorado River basin are keenly aware of drought issues in California, by far the most populous of the seven states in the Colorado system.

Meanwhile, abnormal dryness has returned to southeastern Colorado, according to the latest data from the U.S. Drought Monitor.


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