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Area will reap the benefits of mountain snowpack

    It was an announcement that surprised no one.
 Gov. Jerry Brown last week proclaimed California’s three-year drought officially over.
 Knocked on its heels by last season’s above average storms, the drought was buried by an avalanche of Sierra snow this year. Brown made his announcement Wednesday, after a state crew measured the mountain snowpack at 165 percent of normal.
    The drought’s demise is hardly news here in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.
    Those living at 3,000 feet or above have spent much of the winter chaining up or digging out. At higher elevations, snow totals have been truly spectacular:
    Dodge Ridge has accumulated more than 600 inches — that’s 50 feet — since the season began, the most in three decades. Bear Valley, with 544 inches, is not far behind.
    Lower elevations have been hammered by floods and slides.
        Water shortages, on the front burner back in 2007, are now a non-issue. Reservoirs locally and statewide are brimming. Water and irrigation district allocations to farmers are quickly returning to normal levels.
    Temperatures in Sonora and Angels Camp late last week inched into the 80s, but we need not feel guilty about basking in the sunshine. In truth, we really don’t need any more rain.
    The abundant local snowpack assures there will be no water shortages for Tuolumne and Calaveras county customers this year.
    The 4,500-acre-foot Lyons Reservoir, the Tuolumne Utilities District’s primary source, is full, as is 18,000-acre-foot Pinecrest Lake, its back-up supply. Those high-country reservoirs, however, fill every year.
    But protracted runoff from the area’s snowpack — particularly if temperatures increase moderately and inflow continues well into the summer — may cut the amount of water TUD buys from Pinecrest, which is managed by PG&E.
    Calaveras County’s key providers, the Calaveras County Water District and the Utica Power Authority, have also weathered the drought years without difficulty. And their reservoirs, like TUD’s should stay full longer with the deep snowpack.
    If anything, confesses CCWD General Manager Joone Lopez, the season’s storms have hurt the district. “We’re selling less water,” she said, adding that there is little need to water gardens of pastures with the deluges that have hit the foothills.
    That the Sierra snow will enable Dodge Ridge to stay open until April 24 and Bear Valley until May 1 will provide a boost to the economy. Skiers and snowboarders will continue to come our way, even as the spring and summer tourist season shifts into gear.
    Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the drought’s end will also reduce the danger of catastrophic fires.
    The extensive rain and snow that has fallen here will likely keep moisture levels in large live and dead fuels high further into the summer, reducing periods of critical danger.
    At the same time, a bumper crop of grasses will dry and become volatile during the summer months, raising wildland fire risks.
    These crops will also make creating the required 100-foot defensible space around homes particularly important. With temperatures already rising, clearing should be done well before using saw, weed trimmers and mowers that can itself start a fire.
    The end of this drought won’t solve California’s epic water supply and water quality problems, and it will hardly render water conservation obsolete. But it does bring benefits and is certainly better than another dry year.
    Which makes enduring all those storms almost worthwhile.

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