California declared drought-free for 1st time since December 2011

Side by side comparison of California drought condition in March 2018 and March 2019
Jazmine Solorzano/Staff

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California is officially drought-free for the first time since December 2011, according to the United States Drought Monitor map released March 19.

The map takes into account precipitation, soil moisture, agricultural conditions, snow and water flow rate patterns, groundwater and the amount of water in reservoirs to measure drought levels throughout the country. It is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Even though the drought has been declared over in California, it doesn’t mean that California isn’t free of water scarcity,” said assistant specialist in the campus department of agriculture and resource economics Ellen Bruno. “We will as a state perpetually be in conditions of water scarcity.”

Bruno said drought-free conditions are a result of heavy rainfall in California this year. How long this will last, however, is “impossible to predict” — California could reverse back into a drought in another seven years, or as soon as next year, according to Bruno.

Berkeley Community Environmental Advisory Commission member Michael Goldhaber said climatologists have noted that California’s weather over the last century has been on average much wetter and that drought conditions in California are normal. Goldhaber said he suspects that 2020 will not be another wet year but that California has enough water saved in reservoirs for residents to not immediately feel these effects.

“Drought is a usual condition and then occasional heavy rains,” Goldhaber said. “But that’s been exacerbated by global warming.”

According to Goldhaber, global warming will affect the speed at which the atmosphere circulates and its level of turbulence. In the future, he said it is very likely California will experience more severe wet and dry cycles — and probably more dry than wet seasons.

Bruno suggested that water conservation is still very important, as California will always have a higher demand for water than supply. On the other hand, Goldhaber said that though it is important to maintain good habits to conserve water, those conservation efforts would not be “particularly advantageous” because personal water consumption is dwarfed by agricultural and industrial consumption.

According to Goldhaber, heavy rain won’t necessarily reduce the number of California wildfires. He added that there will be more grasses, trees and other fuel for fires once the summer heat dries out areas of the country, including the edge of Berkeley.

“As the summer goes along, we will have a period with very little rain almost surely, and as a result, we will have more fire fuel,” Goldhaber said. “People should be careful about fire, in the fall especially.”

Contact Emily Hom at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hom_emily.