Los Angeles

Severe Drought Down to 11 Percent in California

A weekly drought report issued Thursday showed the state's two largest water reservoirs are well above average

Nearly all of California's major water reservoirs are above average after another round of storms during one of the state's wettest winters in years, according to this week's Drought Monitor report.

The weekly report issued Thursday showed the state's two largest reservoirs, Northern California's Oroville and Shasta, at 126 and 124 percent -- more good news for drought recovery

Severe drought is down to 11 percent of the state, a region northwest of Los Angeles. More than 82 percent of California was in that category -- the monitor's second-most severe -- one year ago.

"In Santa Barbara and northern Ventura counties, an area of Extreme Drought has remained in place as local reservoirs and groundwater levels have been lagging behind other indicators as a result of the cumulative effect of significant long-term precipitation deficits," according to the Monitor report.

About 47 percent of the state is in drought, according to this week's report, down form 95 percent at this time last year.

Heavy snowfall over the past week in the Sierra Nevada range, where snow melts in spring and runs into water reservoirs, eased drought conditions, according to the Monitor. The statewide snowpack is at 176 percent of normal with several more weeks remaining in the wet season.

On Wednesday, water regulators extended what are now largely symbolic conservation measures lingering from the drought. Regulators decided to retain the measures at least until spring as a precaution against the possible return of dry weather -- even as another major storm bears down on the state.

"I don't think there's just one way to go," Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, said after several local water districts urged members to lift the regulations. "The better decision is to extend it and see later where we are." 

The strongest of this week's storms moved ashore in Northern California, raising the risk of flooding and mudslides in the region of already soggy hillsides and swollen rivers. Flood and wind warnings are in place again Thursday north of San Francisco, where residents along the Russian River have stacked sandbags to protect their properties. The river overtopped its banks in some areas and flooded streets Wednesday, but it began to drop later in the day. The wine region community never dried out after damaging flooding during storms last month.

The National Weather Service is warning that the nearby Napa River could swell beyond flood stage by Thursday evening.

Southern California is getting a break from days of rain, but dense fog is making for treacherous driving and has led to flight delays at Los Angeles International Airport. The rain total in downtown Los Angeles since October -- the start of the wet season -- has reached 15 1/2 inches -- far exceeding the normal annual rainfall.

More rain is likely in Southern California Friday night.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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