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Why it will take a 'family of baby Godzillas' to end the drought




A man walks in the rain past a covered storefront in San Anselmo, Calif., on Jan. 7, 2017. On the California coast, weather forecasters anticipated a storm surge from the Pacific called an atmospheric river to dump several inches of rain from Sonoma to Monterey counties, and up to a foot in isolated places in the Santa Cruz mountains.
A man walks in the rain past a covered storefront in San Anselmo, Calif., on Jan. 7, 2017. On the California coast, weather forecasters anticipated a storm surge from the Pacific called an atmospheric river to dump several inches of rain from Sonoma to Monterey counties, and up to a foot in isolated places in the Santa Cruz mountains.
Jeff Chiu/AP

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Winter storms are bringing flooding and heavy snowfall to California this week.

In Northern California, the storms have replenished reservoirs to such an extent that experts say much of that part of the state is no longer in a drought.

Here in Southern California, while the wetter weather is a welcome respite, the drought is still very much a reality.

But could the tipping point be on the horizon?

Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech, joined Take Two to discuss.

Interview highlights:

What's happening with our groundwater and reservoirs right now? Are we getting back what we lost?

We will probably never get back what we've lost from the groundwater, because that's been going on for a century. This is a difficult message to get across— we use so much groundwater, the depletion of our groundwater resources, especially in the Central Valley, has been going on for a century. During wet periods like this, even if this were to persist for a few years, we'd get some recovery, but unless we shift away from an agricultural economy, we'll likely never get it back what we've lost.

But on the upside, of course our reservoirs are being replenished and the snowpack is building, especially in the northern part of the state, so that's all great news, we just have to wait and see how the rest of the storm season will unfold. 

According to NOAA and the National Drought Mitigation Center, which release the U.S. Drought Monitor, parts of Northern California are out of the drought. For those of us in the South, should we be encouraged by what's going on in the North?

Oh absolutely, but it's too early to say what the rest of the winter will look like. We're not really good at predicting what's going to happen in February, what's going to happen in March. So for the short term, reservoirs have been replenished, we're looking good for the short term. But we need that spring snowpack to get us through the rest of the year. You know, last year we talked about the Godzilla El Niño, so this is like a baby Godzilla storm that we've just had. And we need a whole family of baby Godzillas to make a big, healthy snowpack that will sustain us through the summer and into the next winter. 

So if rain is falling, things are looking good, but we're not out of the woods, how do you keep up the messaging about conservation and better water management?

The messaging is difficult and messaging about total water use is more challenging. Meaning, when we look across the state and we think about how much water we use to grow food, that's something that I don't think the average person, certainly someone who lives in an urban area, really thinks about. So there's a long-term message that conservation remains important. Even when we have storms like we are experiencing, we have to make that water last and we have to keep our fingers crossed for more storms in the future.

The other part of it is that people don't understand how much we still rely on groundwater and that that groundwater is disappearing. I like to fall back to the income versus the bank account analogy. Rainfall and snowfall are like income, and the water in our reservoirs is like a checking account. Right now it's like we've got a job, and we're putting a little money in the checking account. We should try not to blow the money in the checking account, and the truth is that it's really difficult for that water to literally trickle down into our longer-term savings account, which is the groundwater, and that really hasn't changed much.

Questions and responses have been edited and condensed.

To listen to the full interview, click on the blue media player above.