3 reasons why California's drought isn't really over, despite all the rain
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
More heavy rain fell on California this week. It was the 12th time this winter that an atmospheric river doused the state. All that water has people wondering if the drought is finally over. Lauren Sommer with NPR's climate desk tells us it's not quite that simple.
LAUREN SOMMER, BYLINE: Ask a California water expert if the drought is done and usually, you'll get a chuckle.
MIKE ANDERSON: (Laughter) All righty. So, yeah.
SOMMER: Mike Anderson is California's state climatologist.
ANDERSON: While we've seen some pretty fantastic wet weather and we've seen conditions improve, in a whole lot of places, we still have some lingering impacts that challenge California.
SOMMER: Basically, it's complicated. There has been a lot of rain. Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is the deepest ever recorded in many places. Rivers are full. So Ellen Hanak of the Public Policy Institute of California says it's looking pretty good if you focus on the reservoirs.
ELLEN HANAK: Now they are pretty full and we're going to be managing flood flows in some parts of the state.
SOMMER: But drought is about more than how much rain California gets, because parts of the state get water from far away. The Colorado River supplies Los Angeles, San Diego and a lot of farmers. Reservoirs on that river just keep dropping.
HANAK: That system has been in a long-term drought for over 20 years now and really looking at emergency cutbacks.
SOMMER: The seven states that rely on the river are negotiating those cutbacks now, which could reduce California's water supply. The second reason the drought isn't fully gone has to do with what's underground. When there hasn't been enough water in reservoirs, cities and farmers have pumped water from aquifers instead. Graham Fogg, a professor emeritus of hydrology at the University of California, Davis, says that's created a huge deficit.
GRAHAM FOGG: The fact that these are such huge volumes of water allows them to take a lot of abuse and to be depleted, you know, year after year.
SOMMER: Before all this rain, some groundwater wells in the Central Valley were at their lowest point ever recorded.
FOGG: One wet season helps, but you would need - we would need several wet seasons in a row.
SOMMER: And the communities that depend on groundwater are still feeling the impacts.
SUSANA DE ANDA: We're not out of a drought.
SOMMER: Susana De Anda is executive director of the Community Water Center, an organization that works on environmental justice in the Central Valley. In the past three years, more than 2,000 household wells went dry in California, many in low-income communities of color.
DE ANDA: Well, many families in the Central Valley lost water completely. That meant that the state had to organize and coordinate efforts to bring in tanked water, bottled water as an emergency, as an interim solution for many families.
SOMMER: The state is now trying to get groundwater use under control. Regions are coming up with plans for stopping overpumping, but they won't be fully in place till 2040.
DE ANDA: In California, the Human Right to Water was passed in 2012. Unfortunately, to this day, many Californians don't have that reality, and it's important to recognize that.
SOMMER: And finally, as Ellen Hanak says, Californians should never get too comfortable.
HANAK: We always have to be ready. Drier times could come again as soon as next year.
SOMMER: A hotter climate means extremes get more extreme in California, including drier droughts. That means saving water now is still important. Even when drought is over, a drought mindset shouldn't be.
Lauren Sommer, NPR News.
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