California most likely will not emerge from the drought this year, according to state water officials.
The current water year, which began in October, has been the wettest since the drought began in 2012.
But added moisture from El Nino will not be enough to end the state’s water woes, according to a March report from the state Department of Water Resources.
“Ending a drought means having enough precipitation and runoff throughout the state to mitigate the impacts we’ve experienced,” the report says. “Water year 2016 doesn’t get us there.”
El Nino brought average rainfall and snowpack levels to much of the state, leaving most of Northern California at normal levels. Southern California is still stressed, according to a post by the California WaterBlog. But it is unclear whether the drought will continue.
The snowpack is a key component of the drought. It acts as nature’s reservoir in California, gradually releasing water for vegetation and reservoirs downstream as it melts.
But higher temperatures in 2014 and 2015 led to less-than-normal snowpack levels. Last year, the snowpack was virtually nonexistent because higher temperatures brought rain instead of snow.
This year, a series of March storms replenished the state’s snowpack, which had dipped below normal in some places after a dry February, according to the National Interagency Fire Center’s fire outlook for the region.
The drought will continue to have an impact on California’s wildfire situation, the outlook states. The potential for wildfires should stay at normal levels for most of the state through June, but the risk of wildfires will climb as the state heats up in July.
“Mild temperatures are expected this spring, and this may also melt the mountain snowpack somewhat faster than usual,” according to the outlook.
New research suggests this might be the new norm, according a New York Times report this week.
Higher temperatures brought about by climate change coupled with overcrowded forests could lead to a smaller snowpack that melts much faster.
Today’s forests are more dense than they were a century ago, in part due to a policy requiring wildfires to be extinguished as quickly as possible.
Small wildfires would thin the forests, Martha H. Conklin, a California snowpack researcher, told the Times. This would allow more snow to reach the ground. Fewer trees also would mean less water would be soaked up by root systems.