After El Nino relief, California will reassess water restrictions

Lake Oroville is one of the northern reservoirs that has recovered after El Nino. This photo was from October 2015. Photo: Ray Bouknight/FlickrLake Oroville is one of the northern reservoirs that has recovered after El Nino. This photo was from October 2015.
Photo: Ray Bouknight/Flickr

For the first time in three years, only 90 percent of California is affected by drought.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 10 percent of the state is free from drought thanks to added precipitation from El Nino. Northern California is predicted to slowly pull out of the drought now that all three major northern reservoirs have reached above-average water levels.

Although the majority of the population is still in a drought, the number who are suffering from “exceptional drought,” the worst level, has dropped from 58 percent in October 2014 to 21 percent.

That 21 percent in Southern California is headed toward its fifth year of drought, with La Nina predicted to exacerbate the matter by making conditions drier than average.

In response to the wet winter, the State Water Resources Control Board will meet May 18 to decide whether to remove the mandatory water usage cuts. The water districts still facing drought – about 400 of them – will still have to report their monthly water use.

On Monday, May 9, Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order making his temporary bans of wasteful watering, such as washing cars without a shut-off nozzle and letting sprinklers send runoff into the streets, permanent.

“Californians stepped up during this drought and saved more water than ever before,” Brown told The Wall Street Journal. “But now we know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life.”

The state water board is still hesitant about relaxing their water-saving requirements since only parts of the state are showing signs of returning to normal.

“This is not a time to start using water like it’s 1999 …; this year could simply be a punctuation mark in a mega-drought,” Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the state water board, told ABC News.

Most agencies are pleased to have the opportunity to decide what works best for their communities rather than striving to reach a mandated cutback goal.

“We’re, of course, extremely happy about the news, but cautiously optimistic because you never know what’s going to actually happen,” Todd Jorgenson, assistant general manager for water for Riverside Public Utilities, told The Press Enterprise.

Riverside’s target was 28 percent reduction and the city filed suit challenging the target it was assigned.

“While El Nino didn’t save us, it did help us,” Marcus said. “We got a reprieve. We need to use this moment wisely.”

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