2016 in Review: California drought eased, but it’s not over
By The Mercury News http://www.mercurynews.com/
As 2016 wound down, California entered its sixth year of drought.
But every part of the state wasn’t created equal. Northern California experienced significant drought relief during the year, while Southern California continued to be mired in historically arid conditions.
The reason? A much-anticipated El Niño brought substantial storms during the spring to the north, giving Bay Area cities and communities across Northern California their best rainfall totals in five years. San Francisco rainfall was 98 percent of the historic average. San Jose was a healthy 100 percent, and Oakland 80 percent.
But the storms largely missed the parched south.
The spring rains sent reservoirs rising, creeks rushing and hopes growing that the relentless drought might be winding down. They also boosted the ski season, growing the Sierra Nevada snowpack to nearly normal levels by April.
In a controversial move, Gov. Jerry Brown dropped statewide mandatory water restrictions in May. Responding to complaints from water agencies that they had lost millions from reduced water sales, the governor allowed cities to ease their water rationing plans. Although Californians are still using less water now than before the drought (those low-flush toilets and rock gardens don’t uninstall themselves), conservation lagged during the summer and green lawns sprouted again. Brown and other state leaders were watching the weather carefully, and plan to decide by January whether to restore the mandatory rules, depending on how much rain falls during the first part of winter.
Wet wood doesn’t burn. So the moderately good rain year was enough to limit catastrophic fires in 2016, and California’s fire year came in at about average. But there were still several very large fires, including the Soberanes fire, which blackened 132,000 acres of rugged backcountry in Big Sur; the 41,000-acre Sand fire in the Angeles National Forest; and the Loma fire, which burned 4,474 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains west of Morgan Hill, destroying 12 homes.
Will the drought end in 2017? If the winter rains are decent, the north will be in pretty good shape. But it will take several wet years for the south to recover, and significantly overdrawn groundwater basins in the Central Valley will take decades to come back.
— Felicia Marcus, chairwoman, State Water Resources Control Board
California rainfall 2015-16
(July 1-June 30, percent of historic average)
Eureka — 120 percent
Redding — 120 percent
Modesto — 119 percent
San Jose — 100 percent
San Francisco — 98 percent
Livermore — 98 percent
Oakland — 80 percent
Riverside — 75 percent
Los Angeles — 65 percent
Santa Barbara — 59 percent
Palm Springs — 56 percent
Irvine — 51 percent
Source: National Weather Service, Golden Gate Weather Services
Read the original article by Paul Rogers from The Mercury News at: http://www.mercurynews.com/2016/12/26/fire-and-rain-california-drought-eased-but-not-over/
Photo: The San Pablo Reservoir, replenished by recent rains, is photographed in El Sobrante, Calif., on Monday, Nov. 28, 2016. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)