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California Drought Retreats During Winter Rain Storms

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California’s drought continues to wane just as the Bay Area is about to receive five straight days of rain, according to the National Weather Service.

The U.S. Drought Monitor’s weekly analysis, released on Thursday shows only 2 percent of the state remains in the most extreme category “exceptional drought,” down 43 percent from a year ago.

Recent heavy rains have resulted in significant improvements for much of California, most of it in the Northern half of the state.

Which means it’s still a tale of two droughts. Everything north of Sacramento is drought-free, while the most severely impacted area of the state is in Merced County and further south.

Walkways along Pier 14 at the San Francisco Embarcadero begin to flood during the high point of a king tide on January 11, 2017.
Walkways along Pier 14 at the San Francisco Embarcadero begin to flood during the high point of a king tide on January 11, 2017. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

Even with all the storms, California still has significant water challenges, including badly overdrawn groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California, a rainfall deficit from the past five dry years and reservoirs in some parts of the state, particularly Santa Barbara, that have not yet recovered.

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Right now, the state’s two largest reservoirs—Oroville and Shasta in Northern California—are 79 percent and 80 percent above their average levels for mid-January. In fact, they’re so full that they’re both dumping water to create room in case it floods.

This time last year,  Shasta was only 33 percent full.

Next week, the U.S. Drought Monitor could show even more impressive results after the upcoming weekend rain is factored in.

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