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SLO County no longer experiencing drought conditions, but water conservation still needed

Posted at 7:05 PM, Feb 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-22 22:06:06-05

San Luis Obispo County is no longer under drought conditions for the first time in eight years.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, new data shows more than half of California, an estimated 67 percent of the state, is now free of the drought with the exception of the far northern and southern parts of the state that are still suffering from “abnormally dry” conditions.

The National Drought Mitigation Center released the “drought monitor” report, which offers a two-week comparison of the change in drought measures.

The state hasn’t looked this way since 2011.

The California drought started in the winter of 2011 and continued up to 2017, which shows that the rainfall from the past two years was what really helped the state and county recover.

“Our rainfall gauges are showing that we are running a little above average for this time this year which is good. It has been running a little below average for the past couple of years,” said Courtney Howard, Water Resources Division Manager for San Luis Obispo County Public Works.

The San Luis Obispo County Public Works Water Management team tracks rainfall amounts and local reservoir and surface water levels.

Howard says this year’s wet season is bringing more than just a drop in the bucket.

“In terms of our surface water supplies, it’s reached saturation in those watersheds so now they are starting to fill up even more effectively with every rain storm we have,” Howard said.

She says about 80 percent of the county’s water supply comes from local groundwater basins.

Gibraltar and Jameson reservoirs are now at 100 percent and Nacimiento reservoir level is at 67.3 percent, a 14.2 percent increase.

Local farmers rely heavily on groundwater supplies to grow food on the Central Coast.

“We welcome rain, especially here on the Central Coast because we know another drought cycle is right around the corner,” said Tom Ikeda, an Oceano farmer.

Even though this year’s rain can be good, Ikeda worries people will take advantage.

“People can get lazy and don’t tend to conserve like before and it can get back to a situation where we have to start conserving again because we are wasting too much,” he said.

“Definitely keep on conserving. It’s a way of life. Every drop of water we can conserve can stay in the groundwater basins. About 80 percent of our water supply comes from our groundwater basins locally,” Howard added.

Long periods of rain can mess up farmers’ planting cycles.

“I’m guessing farmers like myself have missed planting cycles because of wet ground which could mean a shortage in the spring,” Ikeda said.

A shortage of crops like spinach, cabbage and cilantro could mean higher prices later on.

You can look at real time data of local reservoirs and groundwater basins on the SLO County Public Work’s online tracker.


(KSBY Intern Ariana Afshar also contributed to this article.)