California Drought Update

Long Term vs. Short Term Drought

Northern and inland Central California got a lot of relief from the ongoing drought in Water Year 2016 (October 2015-September 2016), thanks to an active weather pattern attributed to El Niño. As a result, the ecology and hydrology of Northern California and inland parts of Central California is a lot healthier after four long, dry years of being brown, dry, stressed and dying of thirst.  The rivers are flowing and a decent runoff is expected from the Sierra Nevada, Cascades, Trinity Alps and Siskiyous.

While the forests and land looked normal again for a California late winter, the area remains in overall water deficit. Wells that went dry are still dry as underground aquifers will require four good water years to recover. That’s not to mention the aquifers are being overused even for good water years to keep up. The supply of surface water to Californians will be vital in the growing season of 2016, so drought water savings measures for residences are not likely to be lifted. Big fines for overwatering and watering on the wrong days will still remain intact on much of California, particularly its southwestern quadrant. Last summer, residential water cutbacks saved two large reservoirs worth of water. With a repeat performance in Summer of 2016, Californians can assure a full growing season for California agriculture this summer, but perhaps next summer as well, should the weather pattern remain on the dry side.

The map below shows how little a dint this rainy season made on long term water supplies, and to make things worse, much of Southern California spent this rainy season being as dry as the last four. They are in a double-whammy of short term and long term droughts combined. The bottom line is the heart of California is still too dry to declare the drought to be over.


The area marked SL on this National Drought Monitor map means area is under short-term as well as long term drought conditions, the double whammy of having experienced no short term drought relief, like the rest of the Western US, plus still in long term water deficit. This includes places like San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Pine Mountain Club, Castaic, Ojai, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Big Bear Lake, Los Angeles and Anaheim. This part of the state stands to be severely troubled through the summer, under constant threat of wildfire.


US Drought Monitor – Long term and short term drought condition levels in the west as of February 2016. Brown = exceptional (maximum), Red = Extreme, Orange= Severe, Beige=Moderate, Yellow=Unusually Dry, White=No Drought


The reservoir levels throughout the drought zone are recovering thanks to the near-average to above-average rain and snowfall during Water Year 2016.

So, we got some water, for now. But we’ll have to keep saving since next winter is expected to be dry.

Good news may be on the horizon in regards to the general dry weather pattern of the last couple of decades of California winters. A long-term Pacific Ocean oscillation is returning to “active phase.”



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