Experts: California drought holds steady amid summer storms

Torrential rains having little effect

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As Cal­i­for­nia law­mak­ers moved a nearly $7.6 bil­lion wa­ter bond to the No­vem­ber bal­lot, fed­eral me­te­o­rol­o­gists said Thurs­day that the state's on­go­ing drought has ap­peared to level off, al­though con­di­tions re­main “ex­treme” in 80 per­cent of the state.

“Areas of dry­ness and drought re­mained un­changed,” ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Drought Mit­i­ga­tion Center, based at the Univer­sity of Ne­braska, de­spite epic storms that have in­ter­mit­tently lashed parts of both North­ern and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

Tor­ren­tial rains early this month trig­gered le­thal mud­slides and flash floods in the San Ga­briel Moun­tains near Los An­ge­les, and thun­der­storms both eased and com­pli­cated the work of fire­fight­ers bat­tling wild­fires this week in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

But those storms “were pretty much a drop in the bucket," said Rich­ard Tinker, a drought ex­pert with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment's Cli­mate Pre­dic­tion Center. “Any rain this time of year, while a bo­nus, doesn't re­ally have much of an ef­fect on the drought,” he said.

Nearly 82 per­cent of the state is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing “ex­treme" drought, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est U.S. Drought Mon­i­tor map, which is up­dated weekly by the cen­ter. Fifty-eight per­cent of the state, mean­while, is with­er­ing un­der “ex­cep­tional” drought, which is the most se­vere mea­sure on the cen­ter's scale.

The fig­ures, while so­ber­ing, in­di­cated a pause in what had been a seem­ingly in­ex­o­ra­ble ex­pan­sion of the drought across the na­tion's most pop­u­lous state and most im­por­tant ag­ri­cul­tural pro­ducer. The per­cent­age of the state gripped by the drought has been rel­a­tively un­changed for the past cou­ple of weeks.

Mr. Tinker added that the state's ma­jor res­er­voirs in ag­gre­gate were at 59 per­cent of the his­tor­i­cal av­er­age-low, but not as low as the 41 per­cent recorded dur­ing the 1976-77 drought.

Only a hand­ful of smaller Cen­tral Coast dams, he said, had fallen be­low those 1977 lev­els — a sit­u­a­tion that law­mak­ers are seek­ing to ad­dress with the wa­ter bond pro­posed for the up­com­ing bal­lot.

Made more ur­gent as the drought has strained Cal­i­for­nia's wa­ter sup­ply to cri­sis pro­por­tions, funds raised by sell­ing bonds would shore up the state's wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture, un­der­writ­ing proj­ects that in­clude im­proved wa­ter stor­age, flood con­trol, ground­wa­ter cleanup, drink­ing and waste­wa­ter treat­ment and in­vest­ments to ad­dress cli­mate change.

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