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KPBS Drought Tracker Update: Some Water Sources Rebounding


California’s wet season is beginning to wind down. So ... has El Niño put a dent in the drought? Not exactly, according to the KPBS Drought Tracker, but some key water sources in the state have rebounded.

Despite the "Godzilla" El Niño, California’s statewide precipitation has been just about average this wet season. As of Friday morning, the KPBS Drought Tracker pegs statewide rainfall at 108 percent of what normally falls by April 1.

The average Sierra snowpack measurement is just below the seasonal average, at 93 percent of the April 1 normal. That's a major improvement over last year. On March 25, 2015, the Sierra snowpack was at 9 percent of normal. Sierra snow provides about one-third of California's overall water supply.

But Scripps Institution of Oceanography climate researcher Dan Cayan, who helps compile data for the KPBS Drought Tracker, said rain and snow have been unevenly distributed throughout the state.

"By and large, conditions in Southern California have been drier than average," Cayan said. "But the water supply-rich areas of California actually have been wet."

In Northern California, the state’s two largest reservoirs — Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville — have refilled to above their historical average levels.

Past El Niños have tended to drive storms toward Southern California. Cayan said this year's unusually high storm activity in Northern California has actually benefitted the state's water supply.

"If we had to choose where we got the heaviest precipitation, we would certainly like it to be in the north rather than the south," he said.

Still, Cayan said the drought is far from over. Statewide rain and snow levels are nowhere close to the 150 percent of normal experts hoped to see by April 1 in order to make a real dent in the drought.

This wet season has been fairly anemic compared to California's last major El Niño. On March 25, 1998, both rain and snow levels in the state exceeded 150 percent of normal.

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