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New drought map shows crisis in retreat

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But it’s not over yet

Lake Oroville in 2015, its level sunken alarmingly low even as storm clouds darken the sky.
Lake Oroville in 2015. The same reservoir is close to overflowing today.
Ray Bouknight

The latest California drought map, released by the National Drought Resilience Partnership this week, suggests a state transformed.

Just five weeks ago, nearly 25 percent of the state was still in “extreme drought” or “exceptional drought” conditions. And a year ago, exceptional drought had stricken nearly 40 percent of California, with extreme drought across more than 20 percent more.

But now only a few moderately sized areas of Southern California still qualify as being in drought, with “abnormal dryness” a bit more persistent.

Only an estimated 15 million Californians live in a drought area now. Almost two-thirds of the state is drought free.

It’s the least mother nature can do for us after flooding the South Bay, pushing near disaster in the north state, and creating that swirling water hole in Napa. (Although that is pretty cool.)

But is the crisis over? Well, technically the answer is no; even if the drought map looks very encouraging right now, drought conditions still persist.

A better question would be, can people stop worrying? This week, some professors and weather watchers told ABC7 “The drought is over,” in those exact words.

Others, like UC Irvine professor David Feldman, cautioned "Things can dry out quickly” and noted that spring rains will be important in girding water supplies for a hot summer.

USGS shows almost all significant California streams holding at least “normal” flow, with many in the “much above normal” range.

On the other hand, groundwater levels in Southern California remain alarmingly low. Of course, that’s because the state has been pumping it to make up for the lack of rain.

LA Weekly notes that the state might be reluctant to declare the drought over because it doesn’t want Californians going water crazy.

But it also points out that the problem went on for so long and the damage was so extensive that it may take many more wet years to fix.

At the very least, the state can now declare the answer to the New York Times’ 2015 question “The End of California?” (which focused on the Golden State’s drought) appears to be no. At least for now.