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State says drought not over
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The water picture in California is better, but not as rosy as it appeared late last year.

Official word from the state is that the drought hasn't ended.

The California Department of Water Resources reported last week that snowpack remains 91 percent of normal. Snowpack is important since it is what fills local reservoirs when warmer temperatures come to melt it away.

Officials never believed that the affects of four years of drought could be wiped away in a single rainfall season despite estimates that El Nino weather patterns would bring about storm after storm. Still, rainfall is filling up lakes that were perilously lowering from excessively dry skies. Don Pedro Reservoir on the Tuolumne River was filled to the 720-foot elevation mark on Monday, up from 676.68 feet on Dec. 20. Much more water is needed to fill the lake, which tops out at 830 feet. In fact, it's about 40 percent of capacity. The lowest the lake has been was in 1977 when it dropped to 598 feet.

New Melones Reservoir on the Stanislaus River was at 848.54 feet elevation on Monday. It crests at 1,135 foot.

"After more than four dry years, we still have a critical water shortage," said Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin on Feb. 24. "We need a lot more wet weather this winter to take the edge off drought. Using water carefully and sparingly is still the quickest, most effective way to stretch supplies."

Jeremy Damas, the city of Ceres' Deputy Public Works Director, said more storms are on the way but experts believe they are more heavily on the rain than the snow.

"It's not over yet," said Damas. "The irrigation districts are projecting that they're going to give back more water to the farmers so obviously we're doing better there. It'll get there. I think what everybody needs to understand is that on the groundwater side, when you're extracting water out of deep water wells such as we are, Modesto, Turlock, all the surrounding cities, it's going to take a lot longer to replenish those groundwater aquifers than it is the surface water from the reservoirs for the farmers."

The city of Ceres measures static groundwater levels and finds that it is about the same as it was 10 years ago. Damas explained that five to seven years ago the groundwater table was about 90 to 95 feet deep but now it's back to 75 to 80 feet deep.

Californians are urged not to relax their water-saving habits and continue conserving.

by reducing or eliminating outdoor irrigation when it's wet and keeping household water use to the essentials.

"We're hoping for every raindrop and every snowflake we can handle. We're hoping for a miracle March and an awesome April. But we can't know what the next couple months will bring. And a warm and dry February has proved that we can't count on El Niño to save us," said State Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus. "Californians have risen to the occasion as never before. But we have to stay the course. We have to keep it up."