Water restrictions relax as drought eases


Photo by Tim Keegan.

For four years now, Californians have faced a record drought and the many difficulties associated with it: water restrictions, increased prices, wildfires and sweltering heat. In January of 2015, Governor Brown instituted a 25 percent statewide water reduction for urban areas, a goal narrowly missed by the state’s 24 percent cumulative savings. Coupled with the El Niño storms of last winter, these efforts provided some relief, refilling reservoirs and rebuilding snowpacks.

These improved conditions have many convinced that the worst of the drought is behind us. The Association of California Water Agencies requested in an April 14 letter to the Department of Water Resources (DWR) that the regulation be rescinded in light of “this winter’s welcome precipitation and snowpack.” Indeed, state water regulators voted to ease the water restriction on Wednesday, May 18, allowing local communities to set their own limits instead. As of June 1, utility companies will predict the water their consumers would need over the next three years and conserve accordingly.

Yet despite this optimistic outlook, the DWR emphasizes that the drought is not over. Much of the state is still parched from severe drought, and groundwater reserves remain greatly depleted. In total, as of May 21, state reservoirs are still about 11 percent below average levels (report found on http://cdec.water.ca.gov/cgi-progs/current/RES). While such a small margin may seem promising, keep in mind we are just entering the dry season.

In addition, while it’s still too early to say for sure, the odds of seeing a La Niña develop this winter continue to grow. La Niña, as one would expect, is the opposite of El Niño, and results in cooler temperatures and drier-than-normal conditions. If one of significant strength develops, it could offset much of the last year’s improvement.

Still, with the drought alleviated for now, many areas can expect to see regulations relaxed in the coming months, though Californians are encouraged to continue saving water and to remember that the drought still poses a severe problem.

Map obtained from droughtmonitor.unl.edu
Map obtained from droughtmonitor.unl.edu