Also, the snowpack (essentially water in storage) in the Sierra Nevada mountain range is at its biggest in 22 years. The snowpack is important since it supplies about 30 percent of the state's water needs particularly in the warmer months when there's little or no rainfall.
California put water restrictions in place in 2014 after Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought state of emergency but officials last year lifted some strict rules, including the requirement of 25 percent cutbacks in urban areas. Last May the state adopted a stress-test approach to water conservation, meaning a more flexible approach that asked water suppliers whether they had enough water supplies for three years of dry conditions.
Wednesday's vote by the board will require a conservation mandate from only those suppliers that cannot pass the stress test. The state previously indicated that 343 out of 410 water districts did the stress test, and at the hearing one official confirmed a majority of the suppliers passed.
Under the extended regulation, the state also will allow urban water suppliers that didn't take or didn't pass the stress test (and have been subject to state-set standards) an opportunity to update their analysis.
The U.S. Drought Monitor last week showed about 50 percent of California being designated at some level of drought intensity. Just three months ago about 75 percent of the state was listed as having some intensity of drought. While nearly 2 percent of the state is still in "extreme" drought — the second worst category — that's down from almost 43 percent three months ago and about 64 percent one year ago.
Last week's monitor showed "moderate" and "severe" drought conditions remain in parts of Central and Southern California as well as a small patch of "extreme" drought in three counties of Southern California — Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura.
The next monitor report and California drought map is scheduled for release early Thursday and is likely to show more areas clear of any drought or dryness. The monitor is prepared weekly by several agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"With the new map that comes out [Thursday] morning, there are going to be further improvements that were made in California this week," said Fuchs, who is one of the regular authors of the monitor.
Specifically, improvements are likely to show up in the southern half of the state where there's still water supply problems. Also there are aquifers that haven't fully recharged after years of drought conditions.
"We may see all other drought signals improve, but we may see those aquifers and well levels still lingering for quite some time just because of how slow those deep water supplies take to replenish," said Fuchs.
One area still feeling the drought effects is the state's Central Coast region between Monterey and Santa Barbara counties.
For example, Lake Cachuma — historically a key water supply for Santa Barbara — is still under 15 percent capacity as of this week. The city of Santa Barbara this month is preparing to fully restart a desalination plant idled in the 1990s that will provide the community with drinking water.
Meantime, north of the state capital, communities such as Red Bluff along the Sacramento River and tributaries experienced flooding Tuesday and conditions could worsen Thursday and Friday with more rain forecast by the National Weather Service. Flooding also is happening this week as the San Lorenzo River overflows between Santa Cruz and Felton.
Also, the Russian River near Guerneville is rising again, causing more flooding in the wine growing region of Sonoma County. Portions of California's Napa wine region have experienced flooding and mudslides too, and nearly an inch of additional rain was forecast from the coming storm system.
"The effects of the rain are only on erosion, which has been tackled right after the previous harvest by winterizing the vineyards by putting down hay," said Jean Hoefliger, a winemaker at Alpha Omega winery in St. Helena, a community in the heart of the Napa Valley. He also said the snowfall in the Sierra is important because it "will melt in spring and provide us with spring and summer water, which we need the most."