5th year of drought declared in California

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Emilia Bulfone/Staff

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Despite California lifting mandatory statewide water restrictions earlier this year, 60 percent of the state is still in a severe or extreme drought.

The recently concluded water year, which is used to measure precipitation totals, was officially classified as dry across the state even though parts of Northern California experienced average to slightly above-average precipitation in the past year, according to a California Department of Water Resources, or CA-DWR, press release. The water year begins Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30 because part of the precipitation accumulating as snow in late fall and winter does not melt until the next spring or summer.

The end of the recent water year marks the fifth consecutive drought year for the state, said CA-DWR spokesperson Doug Carlson.

“We’re definitely not going to be out of the drought next year,” Carlson said. “(It is) logical to conclude that we are marking upon a sixth-year drought.”

In May, public water agency East Bay Municipal Utility District, or EBMUD, ended its emergency drought declaration and lifted a surcharge that customers previously had to pay for excessive water use.

“Based on our water supply, we know that we have enough water for three years. … We can confidently say we are out of the drought emergency,” said EBMUD spokesperson Nelsy Rodriguez. “However, conservation is a way of life in California. We ask (customers) to be mindful of their water use.”

Despite water restrictions varying across the state, Carlson said it’s “up to Californians to remember that we’re still in a drought.”

EBMUD is devising new ways to bring its customers water. Rodriguez said EBMUD hopes to expand its recycled-water program — currently active in San Ramon and Emeryville — to Albany and Berkeley in a few years.

UC Berkeley real estate spokesperson Christine Shaff said the campus is continuing efforts to reduce its water use.

“The Office of Sustainability (and Energy), in their latest report, noted that campus water use has reduced almost 20 percent from 2008 levels,” Shaff said. “One of the significant things about that number is that there are more campus buildings since then … and the campus population has increased, but our water usage has decreased.”

Since the statewide water restrictions were lifted in May, several campus fountains have started running water again.

“We turned them back on for graduation week in May, at least Ludwig’s Fountain (at Sproul Plaza), and then they were off,” Shaff said. “(They) turned back on for the school year.”

The water used in the fountains recirculates, Shaff said, which is one of EBMUD’s guidelines for allowing water fountains to run.

While Carlson hopes to see the drought end soon, he said the CA-DWR cannot make predictions.

“Until that, we will be watching … and urging people to conserve,” Carlson said.

Contact Semira Sherief at [email protected]ycal.org and follow her on Twitter at @semshreif1.