The question of whether our drought is over depends on how “drought” is defined. Dictionary.com offers two similar yet different definitions. By the first definition, that a drought is “a period of dry weather”, the answer would be “Yes, the drought is over”. There have been slightly above average levels of rain and snow throughout most of California this year. The second definition, however, that a drought is an “extended shortage” is more difficult to assess.
What is certain is that this assessment depends on your perspective.
Many agricultural users with senior water rights suffered no reduction in supply from 2007 to 2009, so from their narrow view there never was a drought. And while dry weather in 2007 and 2008 diminished the Tuolumne River supplies on which San Francisco and many other Bay Area cities depend, the drought was essentially over for them in 2009.
Of course, the current view of many State Water Project and Central Valley Project customers, who grew accustomed to exporting more and more water from the Delta over the last decade, is that the drought will not end so long as the Endangered Species Act criteria to reduce reverse flows in the lower San Joaquin River are in place.
From a statewide perspective, it is hard to argue that we are not in an extended shortage while we continue to overdraft our aquifers by more than 4 million acre-feet per year – about 10% of our statewide use. Until we control this deficit spending, our groundwater bank accounts will spiral ever downward only exacerbating our “extended shortage”. The 2009 legislation to monitor groundwater levels is a good first step but much more needs to be done.
So California’s farms, families and fish should be pleased that 2010 has been wetter than the previous three years. But until we bring all our water supplies and demand into balance, there will always be the specter of shortages and by some definitions, our “drought” will continue.