California, plagued by a crippling shortage of rainfall over the past decade, is officially free of drought for the first time in more than seven years, officials announced Thursday.
The crisis ― which has been linked to deadly wildfires and mudslides of unprecedented size and scope, as well as agricultural downturn and household water shortages ― found a reprieve after “abundant precipitation” this winter, the National Drought Mitigation Center said.
The development marks the first time since Dec. 20, 2011 ― 376 weeks ago ― that the University of Nebraska monitoring group measured zero drought in the state considered to have one of the most variable climates in North America.
The yellow areas on the maps above indicate regions that are “abnormally dry” ― one stage less acute than being in a “moderate drought.” The large swath of abnormal dryness remaining in Southern California is due to lack of rainfall there in previous winters, the center said.
Precipitation across the western U.S. this year has helped replenish soil moisture deficits, rebuild essential snowpack and refill reservoirs in California and neighboring states that have undergone drought in recent years, the center noted.
At the same time, communities across California are still reeling from some of the worst wildfires in state history. Those catastrophes linked to tinder-dry forests include the Camp fire in the rural town of Paradise, where many of the tens of thousands of people who lost everything in November remain without a permanent home.
At the height of California’s drought in 2014, the dryness was so extreme that it was visible from space. In one Central Valley community in the heart of the state’s agricultural basin, people had to start relying entirely on bottled water for their household needs.
The crisis prompted then-Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state emergency that year, and in 2015, he effected mandatory water cutbacks in the state for the first time in history. Across every city, residents were required to make a 25 percent reduction in water use.
Despite this week’s encouraging news, officials have long warned that California ― like every other place on Earth ― will not be in the clear unless humanity slows the effects of climate change and rising global temperatures.
“This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner,” Brown said in 2017 when he declared an end to that state emergency. “Conservation must remain a way of life.”