Even After The Floods, The Drought Continues

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The storms that drenched California recently did little to combat one of the state's worst droughts in a century. Farmers in California's Central Valley say they need "Biblical proportions" of rain.


Here's some good news about the water situation in Northern California: More rain is falling today. San Francisco has seen eight inches over the past week and down south, L.A., has seen four. That's more rain than those two cities received over the whole past year. But the drought is still on and is still severe. And California's farmers are still looking at a bleak situation.

Here's NPR's Kirk Siegler.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Like most farmers in California's Central Valley, Dan Errotabere was elated by the recent rain. But he needs a lot more.

DAN ERROTABERE: We are going to need rain in the Biblical proportion.

SIEGLER: Errotabere says the recent rain will help the soil. But it's not going to do anything for his garlic, his onions, tomatoes and almonds. Errotabere is still expecting to get zero water from federal and state irrigation projects this spring - that's what he uses to grow those crops.

The fact is California is so dry right now that the state would need eight or nine big storms like last weekend's to change this year's dismal water allocations. Errotabere is planning for the worst.

ERROTABERE: A lot of ground is going to get fallowed and that translates to a loss of jobs, loss of tax base, impact to communities. I mean, it's pretty dramatic.

SIEGLER: Errotabere expects about 40 percent of his total land will lie fallow this year. But California's Central Valley grows more than a third of all the produce in the U.S. and prices are expected to rise, unless there's a dramatic change in the weather. That's not looking likely.

Arthur Hinojosa is an engineer with the California Department of Water Resources. He says recent storms boosted the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada, which feeds a web of reservoirs and canals and eventually farms.

ARTHUR HINOJOSA: We like to think of the snow pack as our largest reservoir. It's only 33 percent of where it should be this time of year.

SIEGLER: Thirty-three percent, well, that's better than the 12 percent before last week's storm. And those reservoirs that were nearly bone dry, the largest ones are now about half full. But they should be filling up to the brim right now. California typically gets all of its annual moisture around the winter months and it uses those reservoirs to coast through the hot and dry summer. And water managers are still planning for the worst.

HINOJOSA: It was really, really bad and now it's just really bad.

SIEGLER: After the recent storms, this year's drought isn't going to be the worst on record. Hinojosa says it's likely to be the third worst. Kirk Siegler, NPR News.

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