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Here's where California's remarkably wet year is bringing welcome recovery

James Rainey, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WILLIAMS, Calif. — Breathing in the rain-scrubbed air and absorbing the splendor of Topanga Creek, as it danced and pooled before her eyes, Rosi Dagit had to smile.

"This is like heaven for a steelhead," said Dagit, a senior biologist with the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains. "If I was a steelhead, this is where I would lay my eggs."

This winter's strong and persistent rains have revived a creek that, in recent years amid a punishing drought, had been reduced to a series of ponds and puddles. The much-needed water greatly enhances the prospects of reproduction for the endangered southern steelhead. And it has revived habitat for myriad other species in the Topanga Creek watershed, from a tiny minnow to frogs and newts to the coyotes and mountain lions that roam the canyon.

Humans share in the watery bounty, because the rocks and sediment washing down Topanga Creek replenish an eroding beach and bolster a beloved surfing spot. Topanga regulars say the newly configured ocean bed has reshaped waves, even slightly increasing the chance they might catch a tasty little "barrel."

Dagit uses words like "fabulous" and "spectacular" to describe the scenes of rebirth and replenishment along watersheds that feed into Santa Monica Bay. It's a sentiment of wonder and relief repeated around much of California in recent weeks, as the wettest winter in recent memory has given way to a damp spring.

The precipitation that has all but ended the state's three-year drought has, without doubt, brought devastation to some areas of the state, resulting in catastrophic flooding, mudslides and snowfall that cost some Californians their homes, their jobs, even their lives. But in many corners of the state that have avoided calamity, super-wet 2023 has been a boon.


The state's largest reservoirs are filled to near capacity. Groundwater has begun to recharge after years of overpumping. Hillsides have exploded with a profusion of California poppies, sky-blue lupine and other wildflowers. Moisture-starved trees, including the state's signature pines and mighty oaks, appear on the rebound.

And the air in Southern California doesn't just feel cleaner, it is cleaner: The first 86 days of the year have produced less pollution than any time since fine particulate monitoring began in 1999, said the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

"I just had a sense of relief — absolute relief and joy — that all the trees in this state would be watered," said Janet Cobb, executive officer of the California Wildlife Foundation/California Oaks. "Especially in rural areas, where the water table has been so depleted, they have finally had a big drink!"

And where oaks are happy, so is other wildlife. Research has found that more than two-thirds of California's drinking water supply is stored in oak woodlands. And nearly three dozen vertebrate species rely on oak habitats, many feeding on acorns dropped by the trees.


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