Why Is the Drought Not Over Yet?

Venice Pier after a storm
Venice Pier after a storm
Alex Thompson/L.A. Weekly

Since December storms have been battering Los Angeles. In this first week of the city's traditionally rainiest month, L.A. is more than 7.5 inches above normal rainfall for the entire season — which ends Sept. 30. A normal year gets about 15 inches for the year; we've seen 15.44 inches through yesterday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. And more rain is probable on Friday, forecasters say.

So why is the six-year drought still in effect? It's been essentially declared over in Northern California and in San Diego County, but for Greater Los Angeles drought conditions remain despite a relative deluge.

Experts say groundwater needs to be replenished and that this could take one or two more seasons of equivalent rains.

"Everything's green, and we have above-normal rainfall," says Joe Sirard, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "But groundwater supply could take two to three very, very wet years to replenish."

The only areas with extreme to exceptional drought conditions in the state are in northern L.A. County and parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

"The drought has been so severe here that it takes a long time to replenish the groundwater system," says David L. Feldman, a UC Irvine professor of planning, policy and design. "A lot of the water runs off into the ocean."

The end of the drought here depends on a self-sustaining amount of ground and reservoir water, he says, which hasn't yet arrived. In fact, more than half the state is still experiencing moderate to extreme drought conditions, according to the nonprofit Pacific Institute's Californiadrought.org.

Feldman says one of the reasons bureaucrats are reluctant to declare an end to the drought is that the drought has trained residents to conserve water, which continues to be advantageous due to the erratic weather seasons of the last decade or so.

"Those of us who look at water never want to get too comfortable," Feldman says. "I suspect that's one of the reasons officials are reluctant to drop the declaration of drought — the fear that we might go back to old habits."

Why Is the Drought Not Over Yet?
U.S. Drought Monitor

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