Skip to main content

California still not out of drought, but ‘things are improving’

The confluence of the San Joaquin River, left, and Tuolumne River, right, along the Dos Rios Ranch Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021 in Modesto, Calif. | Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Even after nearly two months of wet weather along the West Coast, California has still not fully escaped its yearslong drought, weather and climate experts with the state’s Department of Water Resources said this week.

The state’s water storage and snowpack levels have risen sharply since the end of December as a result of more than a dozen atmospheric rivers that have doused the state in January and March as well as the heavy snowfall across the state in February. 

State Climatologist Michael Anderson said Wednesday that California has seen “pretty fantastic” drought-busting weather patterns so far in 2023, which have also helped saturate the state’s previously arid groundwater basins.

However, he said, the state is still partly at the mercy of conditions in the Colorado River Basin, which provides water to some 40 million people in Southern California as well as Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

As for a concrete answer on whether the drought is over, Anderson offered an answer that boiled down to “no, but kind of.”

“One of the big challenges for California lies outside of California in the Colorado River Basin, a basin that’s been in drought for 23 years and running,” Anderson said. 

Composite image, a comparison of water levels at Lake Oroville | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“We can say things are improving, just there will be lingering impacts, particularly those in the groundwater and in those basins outside of California that we rely on for our supply,” he added. 

The state is expected to see a wet weather lull into the weekend, albeit with a low chance for showers before another atmospheric river potentially arrives between March 19 and 22. 

Long-term forecasts are also uncertain, but do show evidence of more potential precipitation throughout the remainder of March. 

The short period of dry weather could be a boon to the state’s Flood Operations Center as it attempts to help flooded parts of the state, including along the Pajaro River in Monterey County.

The river’s levee broke Saturday morning, resulting in a 400-foot-wide gap that Monterey County officials said earlier this week could take up to a week to repair. 

Jeremy Arrich, the manager of the Department of Water Resources’s Department of Flood Management, said Wednesday that crews have filled the break in the river and continue to make progress in bringing the broken section back up to the same height as the rest of the levee.

“The initial attempt was to get rock placed along that […] break and get it above the water levels, and then we’ll go back through and raise that levee section,” Arrich said. “That’s a temporary repair, but that’s what we do in these kinds of situations.”

Copyright © 2023 Bay City News, Inc.