The California drought that spanned water years 2012 through 2016 included the driest four-year precipitation on record statewide (2012-15) and the smallest Sierra-Cascades snowpack on record (in 2015, with 5% of average). It was also marked by extraordinary heat, wherein 2014, 2015 and 2016 were California's first-, second- and third-warmest years in terms of statewide average temperatures.
As of last week, however, the state's emergency drought period has been officially declared over.
Following unprecedented water conservation and plentiful winter rain and snow, California Gov. Jerry Brown announced April 7 the end of the drought state of emergency in most of California while maintaining water reporting requirements and prohibitions on wasteful practices, such as watering during or right after rainfall.
"This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner," Brown said. "Conservation must remain a way of life."
The governor’s Executive Order B-40-17 lifts the drought emergency in all California counties except Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne, where emergency drinking water projects will continue to help address diminished groundwater supplies. The order also rescinded two emergency proclamations from January and April 2014 and four drought-related executive orders issued in 2014 and 2015.
In a related action, state agencies also issued a plan to continue to make conservation a way of life in California, as directed by Brown in May 2016. The framework requires new legislation to establish long-term water conservation measures and improved planning for more frequent and severe droughts.
Although the severely dry conditions that afflicted much of the state starting in the winter of 2011-12 are gone, damage from the drought will linger for years in many areas, the state noted. The drought reduced farm production in some regions, killed an estimated 100 million trees, harmed wildlife and disrupted drinking water supplies for many rural communities.
In fact, reports from the University of California-Davis Center for Watershed Sciences showed the impact of the drought each year. In 2015, California's agricultural economy was estimated to have lost about $1.84 billion and 10,100 jobs because of the drought. The figure was lower in 2016 after El Nino conditions brought some precipitation to the state, but losses were still estimated at $603 million, with 4,700 jobs affected.
As the largest agricultural production state rebuilds, California said the consequences of millions of dead trees and the diminished groundwater basins will continue to challenge areas of the state for years.