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California Officials Release New Rainfall Figures After El Nino


And here in this state, there is finally some good news to report about the historic drought. For the details, we're joined by NPR's Kirk Siegler. He's in a meadow high in the Sierra Nevada where state water officials made a very important measurement today. And Kirk, you were in the same place exactly a year ago. How different is it now?

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly. You know, I can't overstate how stark the difference is. I mean, I'm standing here, talking to you right now. There's about five feet of snow, and exactly one year ago, we were out in this same meadow where they take snow measurements. Governor Jerry Brown walked across the meadow. There was no snow anywhere. It was just muddy, and he announced those conservation mandates ordering Californians to cut their water use by 25 percent, which, remarkably, has pretty much - they pretty much succeeded in.

Now, today, all of this is tempered by the fact that the snowpack here, while way better than it was last year - last year was 5 percent of average. This year, it's 95 percent of average - so just below average.


SIEGLER: It's a big improvement, but it's still not the kind of turnaround that snow surveyors were hoping for.

MCEVERS: But is this a signal, you know, not just to California but to the rest of the West that we might be getting out of this drought?

SIEGLER: You know, it's really not. There were some key storms that really sort of bailed us out and brought us back to near normal. But when you take a look at West-wide and you consider the fact that the temperatures across the West - scientists point to climate change or just rising - more and more, the snowpack - and you can think about the snowpack as sort of a savings account for the hot summer so all the snow-fed reservoirs in the West can get through the hot summer.

And from all I can tell - forecasters and hydrologists are telling me that the conservation measures and everything else will need to stay in place. Thomas Harter, a hydrologist from UC Davis down the hill, told me, you know, the challenge right now with the drought in the West really starts now.

THOMAS HARTER: This is much like coming back after a long period of unemployment and you get your first paycheck. You're not bouncing around and spending a lot of money.

SIEGLER: So Kelly, they're saying, you know, we just can't be complacent and can't let up on the conservation.

MCEVERS: There has been so much coverage of how farmers and ranchers have been hit so hard after these last four years of drought. How are they reacting?

SIEGLER: I would say with cautious optimism. The fact that we're back to normal just a little bit in most parts of the state is very encouraging. You know, driving up to the mountains here, I paid a visit to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and dropped in on a rancher that I'd been visiting with throughout this drought. And you know, he's out in his fields. And they're lush, and they're green. And it's just quite a sight compared to last year. And you drive up here into the Sierra Nevada, and there was a snowstorm.

But as you look a little bit harder at the numbers and you travel deeper into the Central Valley and deeper south into California where these storms haven't really materialized, farmers are still very concerned. And that's where, you know, most of the big farms are that supply a lot of the country's produce. Farmers there are expecting to get just a fraction, still, of their irrigation water from federal and state canals. But frankly, it's a fraction more than they got last year, so things could be worse.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Kirk Siegler. Kirk, thanks so much.

SIEGLER: You're welcome, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.