By Elizabeth Zach, staff writer

California water officials, while acknowledging the state is still in a drought, said in May that residents will no longer be required to curtail their water use because this winter’s El Niño storms partly replenished Northern California reservoirs and brought more snowpack to the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The relaxed usage rules are namely directed at urban users. Different regulations govern rural and agricultural water use. However, with the winter rains over and dry summer months predicted, officials are advising cautious optimism to all residents, saying that the drought, in its fifth year, is one of the worst in state history.

“We are still in a drought, but we are no longer in the-worst-snow-pack-in-500-years drought,” Felicia Marcus, the head of the state water board, told The New York Times. “We had thought we are heading toward a cliff. We were worried we were in our own Australian millennial drought. We wanted to make sure people didn’t keep pouring water on their lawns with wild abandon.”

Another observer, Peter Gleick, president and co-founder of the Pacific Institute, says there’s both good news and bad news for Californians.

“The bad news is that this really is sort of a Gordian Knot,” Gleick told Wired magazine. “The good news is the drought has opened doors to some conversations we need to have about water rights, groundwater management, and monitoring.”

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