Relief But No Cure for California Drought

In the 2015-2016 season, rain fell in the north of the state, but the South and Central Coast remain parched
Apr 6, 2016

California’s rainy season just ended, and there’s good news and bad. Northern California had a good season, with precipitation totals approaching normal after four years of drought conditions.

Central and Southern California, on the other hand, didn’t share anywhere near that wealth. Conditions remain dry in growing regions such as Paso Robles and Santa Barbara.

That said, this season was certainly better than anything California had seen in a while. “Last year, we saw a 25 percent decrease in yields across our vineyards, and we can attribute some of that to the drought,” said Katie Jackson, vice president of sustainability for Jackson Family Wines, which owns numerous wineries in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino, plus three in Monterey and Santa Barbara. “We have also seen reduced production due to the lack of available water in the soil, resulting in smaller clusters and smaller berries.”

The North got a boost from snowfalls in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and that eventually makes its way into California residents' water supply. A year ago, when officials measured snowpack at the location they’ve tracked for 75 years, there was no snow to measure, just dead grass. Last week, it was back up to 87 percent of average. Not perfect, but not bad.

Still, the wine industry remains cautious. “The rains have filled our North Coast reservoirs, but we don’t think we are out of the woods,” Jackson said.

Reservoirs and irrigation ponds here Napa and Sonoma are indeed beyond capacity, while San Luis Reservoir near Monterey is only at 57 percent of its historic average. “The further south you go, the worse it looks,” said California Water Resources Department spokesman Doug Carlson.

None of this includes California’s groundwater issues. Aquifers in the big and bountiful San Joaquin Valley—the main source for U.S. agricultural production—are becoming disturbingly low by most assessments.

So it looks like California’s drought is not over. The state officially remains in a drought emergency. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown enforced tough restrictions to cut water usage by a mandatory 25 percent. (My lawn was a very nice shade of tan.)

However, the Water Resources Control Board said on April 4 that it is accepting public comment about potentially easing water limits in Northern California.

As for the future of the drought, as California enters the dry summer season, Carlson wouldn’t make any forecasts. “There’s no way to predict what the weather will be like a month from now,” he says, “let alone a year.”

Environment Disasters Drought News

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