California Drought Is Over as Snow Mounts, Brown Ready to Say

California Governor Jerry Brown is ready to declare an end to an almost three-year drought that threatened the state’s $35 billion-a-year agriculture industry after a deluge of snow and rain filled reservoirs.

Brown will make the announcement tomorrow after the California Department of Water Resources conducts its final winter survey of the water content of snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains, his office said. The snowpack contains 159 percent of the water expected on April 1, the department said. Water supplies are already more than 100 percent of average this time of year in the most populous U.S. state.

“We are looking at a good water-supply year as we prepare for this summer’s peak demand period,” said Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin.

Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared the drought in June 2008 after two dry years dropped supplies to 67 percent of normal. The drought threatened California’s farming, which accounts for about 12 percent of agricultural sales in the U.S., according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

About 43 percent of water taken from lakes and reservoirs is used for farming, according to the California Farm Bureau.

California’s previous drought lasted from 1987 until 1994, costing the state as much as $1 billion in farming losses and increased electricity usage, according to the Farm Bureau.

Smelt in Peril

Schwarzenegger in February 2009 declared an emergency as the drought persisted. That order asked urban residents to curtail water use 20 percent and allowed the state to seek federal money to transfer water to areas facing shortages.

The California State Water Project, a string of reservoirs and aqueducts that supplies water to two-thirds of the state’s 37 million people and to 750,000 acres of agricultural land, announced it can deliver 70 percent of the water that’s been requested this year. That’s up from 50 percent last year and 40 percent in 2009.

Water destined for Southern California faucets also is limited because of an August 2008 federal court ruling that supplies from Northern California must be cut to protect the Delta smelt, a 2-inch-long endangered fish killed by pumps.

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