Southern California Had Lots of Rain This Year — But Is It Still in a Drought?

If you live in Southern California, there’s a good chance you’ve heard that the area is in a drought. But this year, it seems nothing could be further from the truth. Warnings of rain and even mudslides have been more common in news reports than wildfires or other common drought-related threats. So, even in the short term, should we change our focus? Is the drought something that, while sometimes a worry, may be something we don’t have to worry about right now? “We are in a large state,” admits Josue Medellin-Azuara, Associate Professor at UC Merced. “Drought might be happening in one place, in one region of the state, and not in others.”

But it’s also important to realize that Southern California gets its water supply from other places. “Southern California gets water from various places, one of which is the Mono Lake Basin in the eastern part of the state,” says Medellin-Asuara. “The other part is the Colorado River Basin in the Colorado River Aqueduct. And then we get water from the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta. So despite the rains and the decent snowpack, in some places we are experiencing a little bit lower than normal levels.” Not everywhere, though. “There has been some recovery on the snow pack.” 

It’s heartening news, but don’t start watering your lawn just yet. This area had a major drought not that long ago — from 2011 to 2017, and later from 2020 to 2022. The idea it could happen again isn’t a big leap. “One has to be a little bit cautious about water use,” says Medellis-Azuara. “The Colorado River is recovering, but we must remember it was over a two-decade drought when California committed to reduce its use of the Colorado River at an amount of 400,000 per acre-foot through 2026. So that definitely has an impact, I think.”

It’s safe to say water conservation isn’t a concept that should be cast aside after one heavy rainfall or even a decent flutter of snow on the mountains. Southern California is a part of the country that is prone to drought — and it’s best not to assume that might change. “This is a place that’s dry, right?” Medellin-Asuara says with a laugh. “And conserving water is always good.”