A heavy dousing of autumn rain in Northern California has lifted a quarter of the state out of drought, the highest percentage in more than three years, according to a new federal report.
Water officials who oversaw mandatory water conservation by cities and towns emphasized three-fourths of the state remains in the five-year drought.
"Droughts are like recessions. Recovery from a recession doesn't happen overnight; recovery from a drought doesn't happen overnight," said Max Gomberg of the state Water Resources Control Board.
October brought heavy rains in Northern California, including the second-wettest October on record for the northern Sierras, the source for much of the state's water.
But "one month of good rain is not a drought-buster," Gomberg said. "You need a lot more of that until the entire state can climb out of drought."
On Thursday, the weekly national report by the U.S. Drought Monitor showed 12 percent of the state, in the far northwest near the Oregon border, had normal or better moisture. Another 12 percent was rated unusually dry but not in drought. The last time readings were this good was March 2013.
The U.S. Drought Monitor is produced through a partnership between the federal government and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Three-fourths of California remains in drought, mostly in Central and Southern California, where most of the state's crops and the majority of its 39 million people reside. Twenty-one percent of the state — again in Central and Southern California — are in the most severe category of drought.
The drought spanned the driest four-year period on record in California. A state-declared drought emergency, ordered nearly three years ago, remains in effect. Authorities lifted a 25-percent conservation order for urban Californians earlier this year.
A study by the University of California at Davis estimated the drought cost the state's economy $2.7 billion in 2015 alone. With river water scarce, farmers have pumped far more groundwater, causing parts of the Central Valley to sink as much as 2 inches a month. With wells gone dry, several working-class communities in the farm region depended on trucked-in water.
Urban water districts, meanwhile, have spent hundreds of millions of dollars paying families and businesses to rip out their lawns, replace their toilets and take other water-saving steps.