Up until a recent much needed rainfall, the state of California was in a six-year drought. The drought was so severe, that by the spring of 2015, the drought had reached unprecedented levels. Yet, the state would not find respite from the drought until stormy weather patterns hit in the winter of 2016.
The California drought peaked between 2012 and 2015. Over 30% of California experienced an exceptional drought. During that time, groundwater reservoirs were depleted and Governor Jerry Brown was prompted to create stringent water restrictions for both farmers and citizens.
But when it finally rained, it poured. Between October 1, 2016 and February 28, 2017, it rained an average of 27.81 inches across all of California. Which means that California experienced the rainiest year since they started keeping records in 1895.
Because of the rainfall, California is in full bloom this spring. Wildflowers are cropping up in quantities so massive, it can only be described as a "super bloom." The once burnt-looking landscape is now awash with vibrant colors from California poppies.
Additionally, once depleted reservoirs are now full again. Some, even, are above their historic capacity. For example, Castaic Lake reached 92% capacity in March, which is above average for the time period.
The effects of the drought on California were astounding. “We lost a third of our water supply,” said Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC-Davis. “And the impact to the agricultural economy was a 2-3 percent loss and the urban economy had almost no economic impact. To me that’s remarkable.”
But the drought has given California the opportunity to grow stronger. Water conservation policies were put into place that will have a lasting impact, even when the state's rainfall is within a normal range. “There’s no question that we’ll be better prepared for the next drought because of the lessons learned in this one,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento.
For example, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act plans to restore areas that have severely overdrawn groundwater. Previously, cities and farms were able to pump water from the ground without having to report the amounts that were drawn. This led to collapsed aquifers during the drought.
Several water wasting bans were put into place during the drought. They will continue to remain even though the drought is technically over. California residents are still not allowed to water lawns within 48 hours of rain, fountains must be run using recycled water and private water companies must report how much water they are using to the water board.
History has shown us that the lessons learned during one drought can mitigate the damages caused by the next one. The drought from 1929 to 1934 led California to build dams state-wide, and the 1976/77 drought promoted the urban water conservation movement. These changes will continue to be with us for years to come.
While the recent rainfalls have left California refreshed and replenished, officials are reluctant to declare California out of the danger zone. “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," said Jeanine Jones, interstate resources manager in the Department of Water Resources. Jones warns that the rain could stop as quickly as it started.