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Storm didn't help California drought conditions

February 18, 2009 |  8:23 am

The largest storm of the season provided a welcome boost to winter rainfall levels, but water officials say the effect on the statewide drought would be minimal.

“You have to understand we are coming off of two dry years to begin with,” said Cynthia Palmer, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. “We’re still playing catch-up, but every little bit helps.”

Rainfall levels in Southern California are running at about 80% to just-under-100% of normal levels, but the statewide snowpack is only at 71% of the norm, Palmer said.

The rain did help boost local groundwater supplies to a modest degree. “What we’ve gained as a result of this storm is about 2 1/2 inches of snow with adequate water content. ... So it’s not going to help us that much,” said David Nahai, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for increased water restrictions and the adoption of a tiered water rate that would punish DWP customers who fail to conserve.

Conditions in Orange County, which relies on groundwater systems for 70% if its water supply, aren’t much better.

“Obviously every little bit of water helps, but we still are in a drought condition,” said Mike Marcus, general manager of the Orange County Water Department.

By Tuesday afternoon, downtown Los Angeles had received 8.54 inches of rain since July, less than an inch below the seasonal norm of 9.37 inches, according to the National Weather Service in Oxnard. But the storm that stretched from Oregon to the Mexican border did little for the Eastern Sierra snowpack, a major source of drinking water for the city.

-- Alexandra Zavis