Minor Drought Improvement After First Significant Rainfall of Season

A brief break in California's dry spell did little to improve drought conditions

The first significant rainfall of the season resulted in greener lawns and more water in some streams, but only minor improvements to California's drought situation as the state enters its fourth consecutive dry year.

The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report shows a slight reduction in the percentage of the state in moderate to exceptional drought, the most severe of the the monitor's five categories. About 55 percent of the state remains under exceptional drought, down three percentage points from last week.

Nearly 100 percent of the state remains under moderate to severe drought.

Two to 3 inches of rain fell in some parts of Northern California last week, but the report serves as a reminder that drought relief will require more than a brief break in the state's three-year dry spell. Drought problems were exacerbated during a summer of record heat and a late-summer heat wave.

The moderate to heavy rains last week in parts of California contributed to stream flows and "greening" of smalls plants and grasses -- a cosmetic improvement that does not indicate deep soil moisture. Significant drought improvement will depend largely on snowfall in the Sierras, a source of water for the state's critically low reservoirs and agriculture operations in the drought-stricken Central Valley.

"During the past two months precipitation amounts for Del Norte, Siskiyou, Humboldt, Trinity and Northern Shasta Counties have been 150-250 percent of normal," according to the Drought Monitor report.

Forecasters also are assessing the potential for El Nino, the Tropical Pacific weather phenomenon that affects weather patterns. Strong El Nino patterns draw moisture into California, but a weak El Nino would probably not generate enough rainfall to affect drought levels.


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The latest estimate places the chance of El Nino at 58 percent, but conditions are forecast to be weak. The El Nino forecast was at 80 percent in June.

Weather conditions and snowpack are critical to solving the state's water woes, and a ballot measure that Gov. Jerry Brown touted as part of the long-term solution went before voters this week. On Tuesday, voters approved Proposition 1, a nearly $7.6 billion bond measure placed on the ballot by the Legislature.

In January, Brown declared a drought emergency as low reservoir levels and decreased Sierra snowpack led to farmers fallowing fields in the Central Valley region and mandatory water restrictions. The next month, lawmakers fast-tracked legislation a bond funding for public works projects that Brown said will help the state better prepare for future droughts.

The water bond funds are part of work that Brown said began when he was first governor of Calfiornia, from 1975 to 1983. Those terms also happened to be during the the state's last major drought, a problem that Brown referred to as "work for a four-term governor."

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