Drought retreats from nearly half of California

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Drought conditions have retreated from nearly half of California after January's onslaught of storms, the U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday, and one large water wholesaler urged state regulators to lift restrictions on areas with adequate supplies.

The board of directors of the San Diego County Water Authority voted to declare an end to drought conditions in its region and to call on Gov. Jerry Brown and the State Water Resources Control Board to rescind statewide emergency water-use regulation.

The authority, a regional supplier to 24 agencies serving 3.3 million people, noted that San Diego's official measurement station had recorded 172 percent of average rainfall since the Oct. 1 start of the water year and extremely high snowpack levels in the Sierra Nevada and the upper basin of the Colorado River. It urged the state to focus on communities that still need help.

"Telling the public to continue extraordinary, emergency conservation measures when the drought emergency no longer exists undermines the credibility of state and local water agencies and erodes the effectiveness of communications during actual water supply emergencies," Mark Muir, chairman of the authority's board, said in a statement.

The state's top water regulator indicated earlier this week that she is not ready to lift emergency conservation measures enacted during the height of the drought.

"It makes the most sense to continue steady as she goes," State Water Resources Control Board chairwoman Felicia Marcus told The Associated Press.

Marcus and the other four board members will decide Feb. 7 whether to extend measures requiring local water districts to enforce conservation rules, provide monthly reports on water usage and show they have a three-year water supply.

January typically is the wettest month in California and Marcus remains concerned that coming months could be dry.

The San Diego County Water Authority contends it has demonstrated it has enough supplies to avoid shortages even if there are three more dry years.

After five years of drought covering virtually the entire state, the turnabout began with a rainy fall and has continued into winter.

The U.S. Drought Monitor said in its weekly update that moderate, severe or extreme drought continues in just 51.4 percent of the state and the remainder has either zero indicators or a condition called abnormally dry.

The worst level, exceptional drought, has vanished entirely and the extreme level applies to little more than 2 percent of the state northwest of Los Angeles.

The monitor noted, however, that despite significant rain and the heavy Sierra Nevada snowpack groundwater levels remain critically low and water is still being trucked in to supply residents of some areas where wells have run dry.


AP reporter Scott Smith in Fresno contributed to this report.