Drought Deception: Is Water Shortage Exaggerated? - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Drought Deception: Is Water Shortage Exaggerated?

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The headlines have been ominous: The state's water supply is drying up. California is running out of water. Conserve or face stiff penalties. But is it really that bad? Some experts say no, and have the numbers to explain the realities of our water crisis.

It's the D-word that's haunted California for the last two years - drought - and all signs point to a dry 2009. That is, until today. Maury Roos is the state's chief hydrologist. He says there is no doubt California is in its third year of drought. But despite threatening reports about heading into the worst drought in modern history, Roos explains it's not the worst we've ever had. The bleakest dates back to 1991.

"It's no longer tracking in the driest of years," Roos said.

The first bit of optimistic news: snowpack has doubled since Feb. 1.

"Based on the automatic sensors which are instruments up in the mountains, the snow pack this morning is 90% of average for this date," Roos said.

To boot, the amount of northern Sierra precipitation we have today is just ahead of where we were for the entire water year last year.

"As of today, we've caught up to average. We've had about 35 inches of precipitation," Roos said.

But these numbers don't mean our reservoirs are full, and the state is not out of the woods yet. Agricultural economist David Zetland says it's still prudent to conserve, but offers a solution to the water crisis.

"Everybody should get about 75 gallons of water a day at a cheap rate, to use for cooking and bathing. And then after that they should have to pay," Zetland said.

The Department of Water Resources will issue an updated report on the state's drought conditions and water availability to the governor March 30. If the emergency conditions have not eased by the end of this month, the governor says he may start mandatory water rationing.

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