As a California politician noted decades ago, you can't conserve what you don't have. Neither can you shunt from one part of the state or import from other states what is not there.
So we are down to hope, hope that the weather pattern afflicting California, other Western states and northern Mexico for the past five years isn't evidence of a 'thousand-year' drought cycle.
4:42 p.m. EDT March 31, 2016
California's all-important snowpack came in below average this week, state water officials said. This time of year is typically the high point for snowpack. Snow provides about a third of California's water.
El Niño, a climate pattern marked by warmer-than-average ocean water in the central Pacific, affects weather patterns in the U.S., often delivering plentiful rain and snow to the West.
"March came in like a lion here in California, and went a long way toward refilling our dwindling reservoirs and replenishing the snowpack on the Sierra Nevada mountains, which is an important part of the state’s water supply," said Matthew Heberger, a senior research associate at the Pacific Institute, an environmental think tank in Oakland.
"However, the latest snowpack measurements show that it’s still a little below average for this time of the year, so we are not out of the woods yet," Heberger said. "It’s too early to declare an end to the drought, and Californians have to continue conserving water."
Many parts of the state will have fuller reservoirs and more water in their streams, but it's not enough to make up for the effects of previous dry years, said Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program.
The snowpack this week fell just 3% short of average in the northern Sierra Nevada, but hit only 72% of average in the southern Sierra Nevada, reflecting the “northern” storm track that has been a hallmark of the 2015-16 winter wet season, according to the Drought Monitor.
During the historic drought, now in its fifth year, Californians have been ordered to use at least 20% less water, according to the Associated Press. To comply, many residents have let lawns turn brown and flushed toilets less often.