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Is the great California drought finally ending?

Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- California's biggest reservoirs are swelling. As of this date, the area surrounding the Sierra Nevada has seen as much snow, sleet, hail and rain as during the wettest years on record. Rainy Los Angeles feels more like London than Southern California.

So is the great California drought finally calling it quits?

Yes. Or at least maybe. If the storm systems keep coming, state and regional water managers say, 2017 could be the end of a dry spell that has, for more than five years, caused crops to wither, reservoirs to run dry and homeowners to rip out their lawns and plant cactus.

"You've seen jumps in snowpack and precipitation amounts. You look at the charts, you see the line just pretty much go straight up," said state climatologist Michael Anderson. For most of the state, the end "is in the realm of possibility now, which is kind of a nice thing to think about."

But Anderson cautioned that the current "La Nina-ish" weather patterns, as he called them, make it tough to know what the rest of the winter will bring. "The funny thing about this weather pattern -- it's about as unpredictable as you can get."

Nature could suddenly turn off the faucet, water officials warn.

"It could shut down," said Jeanine Jones, interstate resources manager in the Department of Water Resources. "We're about a third of the way into the wettest part of the season. We have to see what happens in the rest of the year."

Whether the drought is in its death throes also depends on what you look at. "In terms of surface water, most of California is no longer in drought," University of California, Davis water expert Jay Lund said in a Wednesday blog post.

But there is no set definition of drought, nor any legal criterion for declaring a beginning or end to it.

"We can't say that we're no longer feeling the impacts of the drought," said Deven Upadhyay, water resource manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. "Later this year, we may be able to say that we've really turned the tide and the drought's over," he said. "But we're not there yet."

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