Drought Conditions Improve in Northern, Central California

Reservoir and snowpack levels have improved as California reaches the end of its rain season

Drought conditions improved this week for some parts of California as a steady stream of storms have nearly filled northern water reservoirs and improved the critical Sierra snowpack, according to this week's Drought Monitor report.

Improvements were reported in several drought condition categories, ranging from moderate to exceptional, as California nears the end of its rain season, which began in October. About 74 percent of the state is under severe drought, a 10-percentage point improvement over the previous week's report.

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"We're shaving off some of these darker shades of red," said NBC4 forecaster Crystal Egger, referring to the Drought Monitor most severe categories. "That's the biggest improvement we've seen so far this season. Hopefully, we'll continue to make progress. We need wet year after year."

About 93 percent of the state remains under moderate drought, down from 97 percent last week. Extreme and exceptional drought levels, the report's two most severe categories, also were down from the previous week.

Most of the improvements occurred in the northern and central parts of the state.

"While it improved mountain snowpack and reservoir levels, significant precipitation deficits remained across California from the state's four to five year drought," according to the Drought Monitor statement.

A progression of drought images dating from October 2015 to March 2016.

Earlier this week, state water regulators said they will soon consider relaxing or even dropping strict conservation orders. April signals the end to California's rainy season, and the State Water Resources Control Board will then take a look at the snowpack and reservoir levels to decide if it's time to change conservation mandates, said Felicia Marcus, the board's chair.


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Gov. Jerry Brown last year mandated that residents and businesses cut their water use by 25 percent compared to 2013. The state water board extended a similar order through much of this year.

Winter started with an above-average snowpack in parts of the Sierra Nevada. In February, however, skies cleared and temperatures soared during a dry spell followed by a downpour in early March that pushed key reservoirs in Northern California above their historical average.

Water flowed over spillway gates on the dam at Folsom Lake near Sacramento for the first time since 2012.

While key reservoirs in Northern California are reaching normal levels, those in Central and Southern California remain low. The statewide snowpack is at 92 percent of normal for this time of year, according to the state Department of Water Resources.

US Drought Monitor
This graphic represents the US Drought Monitor report for Thursday March 17, 2016.
Copyright AP - Associated Press
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