California Drought Watch: A monthly look at the water shortage

Compiled by Times researcher NONA YATES

A wet December eased somewhat the danger of severe drought next year. Precipitation in the crucial Sacramento River watershed is above normal thus far this season, but storage in key reservoirs remains very low.

The Bottom Line: Heavier than normal snow and rainfall need to continue in the Sierra Nevada to avert new cutbacks in water supplies for farms and some cities. January is usually the wettest month.

Sacramento River Basin (As of Dec. 16) Precipitation to date in average season: 14.3" Precipitation this season: 14.5" Driest season on record (1976-77): 2.2" Storage (In 155 major reservoirs as of Dec. 1) Capacity: 37.6 million acre-feet Normal season: 21.6 million acre-feet Current: 11.8 million acre-feet Driest season on record (1976-77): 13.4 million acre-feet Eeastern Sierra (Mammoth Pass as of Dec. 16) Precipitation in normal season: 14.7" Precipitation this season: 11.8" Driest season on record (1976-77): 1.5" Rainfall Yardstick (Season to date as of Dec. 16) A. San Francisco: 100% of normal B. Santa Barbara: 65% of normal C. Ventura: 123% of normal D. Los Angeles: 114% of normal E. Santa Ana: 123% of normal F. San Diego: 80% of normal *

Running Out: The 11.8-million acre-feet of water left in major reservoirs after six years of drought is like an emergency checking account for California. The account held 12.8-million acre-feet this time last year--12.4 million acre-feet at this time in 1990.

Drought Quote: "What I think the drought does is highlight the problems and challenges that already exist in water management in the West. These challenges must be addressed because we live in a water-short region, period."

--D. Craig Bell, executive director of the Western States Water Council, in Western Water magazine

Sources: State Department of Water Resources, Water Education Foundation, L.A. Department of Water and Power, Johnston Weather Watch, Santa Barbara Department of Water.

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