The darkest red, which represents about 2% of the state, is the only remaining region left classified with "exceptional drought" status. Image: drought.gov

The darkest red, which represents about 2% of the state, is the only remaining region left classified with “exceptional drought” status. Image: drought.gov

The Inertia

As one of several mega storms wraps up, Southern California is left drenched and pleasantly surprised. The latest downpour left less than 2% of the state of California in “exceptional drought.” Sierra snowpack is strong. And for now it’s looking like 2017 might be the first wet year in recent memory.

Suffering five years of exceptional drought hasn’t been easy for Californians. Governor Brown imposed mandatory water restrictions in 2015 that he later extended indefinitely. Central Valley farmers wondered whether the golden state’s power house agricultural industry could continue to provide the nation with fresh winter produce. And all kinds of folks at continent’s end seemed to finally be coming to terms with most of the state’s fickle desert climate. Then the winter of 2017 pummeled us.

Nearly a year ago, the US Drought Monitor, reported that 43% of the state was in “exceptional drought.” As of 1/17/17, only 2% remains in the most extreme condition. And after getting beat down by the latest storm, which brought nearly 3 inches of rain to parts of Los Angeles County, that number will likely be even lower. Even more important, the Sierra snowpack is at 193% of its historical average volume. This snowpack acts as water storage for the summer when rain is scarce and is a reliable measure of what to expect for the year to come. Let’s take a moment to enjoy this. Feels good, right?

Now that most of the state’s largest reservoirs are above average capacity, can we finally go back to fire-hosing our grassy lawns? Not so fast, say the experts. First, we don’t know if this is going to last. Some unseasonably hot weather could melt the snowpack and send it prematurely out to sea before the summer. Weather is as unpredictable as it’s ever been. Droughts will cycle and we need to be prepared for the worst. Second, maybe just maybe we learned a tough lesson over the last several years. That is, no matter how many Mulholland water grabs and Colorado River diversions we can dream up, populations are just too high to pretend sunny California won’t be haunted by its lack of water for years to come. That’s just the truth. We can despair or we can flex those innovation muscles we’re supposedly so famous for and get efficient. The choice is ours.

Be sure to stay informed with these trusty resources below.

U.S. Drought Monitor: https://www.drought.gov/drought/california

California Snowpack: http://cdec.water.ca.gov/cdecapp/snowapp/sweq.action


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