LOS ANGELES — The rain and snowstorms that hit California last weekend weren't enough to pull the state out of its drought emergency, according to Fitch analysts.
"While the weekend storm was good news for California water agencies and consumers, a single major storm doesn't end a drought," said Andrew Ward, municipal water and sewer director for Fitch Ratings.
California Governor Jerry Brown called a drought emergency on Jan. 17 giving state water officials more flexibility to manage supply throughout California under drought conditions.
Based on current conditions, officials say, 2014 is anticipated to be the driest year in 100 years. This year marks the third dry year for the state.
Most California water utilities are well-positioned to withstand a typical drought, but a more severe, or longer-than-usual drought, could pressure ratings, according to Fitch. The drought means more stress for utilities dependent on imported water and surface water while those with significant ground water supplies will have an easier time maintaining financial stability through the drought.
It would take a series of big storms to end the drought, Ward said.
"We're probably too far along in the traditionally rainy season from December to March to fully make up lost reservoir levels," Ward said.
Forced conservation, fallowing of farm land, and water rate increases in many parts of California will have everyone hoping for more rain, he said.
In a prolonged drought, a simultaneous increase in water prices and reduction in usage would put import-dependent utilities under pressure, forcing large and difficult to impose rate increases, analysts said.