Governor Brown expected to declare end to California drought

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California Governor Jerry Brown speaks to reporters as he announces his proposed budget at the California State Capitol on January 10, 2011 in Sacramento, California.

Tomorrow, Governor Jerry Brown is expected to declare an end to California's 3-year-old drought after a winter with heavy rainfall and snow.

How does the government determine when the drought is over? Reporters go out with the Department of Water Resources every spring as they test the spring snow pack.

The drought actually ended last year, but for a variety of reasons, the state exercised an abundance of caution and waited to declare the drought over. Some of those reasons were political – last year, the state was in the middle of promoting an $11 billion water bond. The Colorado River Basin also remains in drought.

There are also concerns about water importation, related to federal laws. Due to protections for the delta smelt, it's harder to get delta water that comes to California.

What does saying the drought is over mean? Everyone worries that once the drought is officially over, people will stop saving water, particularly on outdoor watering. This is a large concern because Southern California uses over half of its water on outdoor watering.

Pasadena is still in spring turnaround for their water management system, so, like many communities, they're still limited and face water restrictions. For example, the DWP is still only allowing outdoor watering on certain days. Authorities still want people to be aware that the water supply in Southern California is limited, because most of it comes from somewhere else.

Ultimately, saying it's over will have little effect on day-to-day life – Southern Californians will still need to carry on with water-saving practices.

Push for more Californians to collect rainwater on their own property

There's also an effort underway for people to be able to collect rainwater in rain barrels. There's currently some confusion over whether it's allowed, but collecting rainwater looks like money to some.

Rainwater falls into the greater category of greywater. Greywater includes water that's recycled from other household activities, such as laundry and bathing, as well as rainwater – as opposed to backwater, which includes things like wastewater and water that comes off city streets.

One reason why there are currently restrictions on collecting rainwater is due to vector control – there's worry about mosquitos and West Nile virus that could be spread with more standing water on private property. There's also a worry that some might think that the water is drinkable.

The law currently in the state Legislature would clarify that it's legal for people to use rain barrels to collect water and that they can set up rain barrels at their downspouts.

It's unknown exactly how much money this could save, as rain barrels haven't been put into widespread use yet. However, they are increasingly popular.

Another problem is that Southern California's rainfall is seasonal. In areas like the Pacific Northwest and the northeast, collecting rainwater is something that can be done longer throughout the year, which also makes it easier to assess how much money they're saving.

LADWP is moving ahead with a rain barrel pilot program. After pressure from neighborhood groups, like the Mar Vista Neighborhood Council, high quality rain barrels were installed in Mar Vista with federal recovery act money. The program is continuing with lower quality barrels.

More from the Associated Press:

Governor Jerry Brown is expected to declare an end to California's 3-year-old drought.

The announcement is expected Wednesday, after completion of the state's final snow survey.

Heavy snow and drenching rains have left California reservoirs at high levels. The Sierra Nevada snowpack was 159 percent of normal as of Friday.

Still, the governor's office says in a statement Monday that it is critical that Californians continue to conserve water.

The Los Angeles Times says the drought ended from a hydrological perspective last year. But state officials say they wanted to wait until reservoir storage recovered.

Information from: Los Angeles Times

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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