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Nearly half the state is in drought again

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2017’s gains are not rolling over

Mojave Trails National Monument Under Review By Trump's EPA Dept. For Possible Downsizing
Mojave Trails National Monument.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Despite a smattering of precipitation this week that included a surprise hail storm, February remains perilously arid in California, and the US Drought Monitor reports that nearly half of the state is in drought conditions and that nearly all of California is dangerously under-hydrated right now.

On the state’s latest drought map, 47.87 percent of California is in the midst of at least “moderate drought,” meaning that (as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains) “water supplies may be low and damage may occur to crops and pastures.”

Some 19.98 percent is suffering from “severe drought,” meaning “water supplies may be low and damage may occur to crops and pastures.”

And in all, more than 91 percent of the state, including all of the Bay Area, is suffering “abnormally dry” conditions, a marker meaning that drought has not started yet but likely soon will.

As KQED pointed out in 2017, the weekly drought map is “a judgment call based on a lot of data,” and there is some room to debate its conclusions. NOAA explains the process:

Each week, drought experts consider how recent precipitation totals compare to their long-term averages. They check temperatures, moisture levels in soils, and water levels in streams and lakes. They also watch for indicators of drought such as vegetation stress. Altogether, experts check dozens of indicators to establish consensus for drought categories across the map.

But the bottom line is that it definitely hasn’t been raining, and there’s no room to argue that.

Worst, the LA Times wondered aloud in an editorial this week whether the term “drought” isn’t a misnomer these days, and that these parched conditions are actually just California’s new status quo, only interrupted occasionally by freak wet years.

“On Tuesday, the State Water Resources Control Board considered but delayed putting the water restrictions back in place, this time on a permanent basis, without the need for a declaration from the governor,” the Times writes. “Perhaps [Governor Jerry] Brown shouldn’t have lifted them at all.”