LOS ANGELES (AP) — California’s 11th atmospheric river left the storm-soaked state with a bang Wednesday, bringing flooded roadways, landslides and toppled trees to the southern part of the state as well as drought-busting rainfall that meant the end of water restrictions for nearly 7 million people.
Even as residents struggled to clean up before the next round of winter arrives in the coming days — with some 27,000 people still under evacuation orders statewide Wednesday — the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California's decision brought relief amid the state's historic drought.
The district supplies water for 19 million people in six counties. The board imposed the restrictions, which included limiting outdoor watering to one day a week, in parts of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties last year during a severe shortage of state water supplies.
But weather woes remained Wednesday, as an additional 61,000 people remained under evacuation warnings and emergency shelters housed more than 650 people, according to the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
Flooding also closed several miles of the Pacific Coast Highway through Huntington Beach, south of Los Angeles on the Orange County coast, and potholes disabled more than 30 cars on one Southern California freeway. More than 144,000 utility customers statewide remained without power Wednesday afternoon, according to poweroutage.us.
Gov. Gavin Newsom surveyed flood damage in an agricultural region on the central coast, noting that California could potentially see a 12th atmospheric river next week. Officials have not yet determined the extent of the winter storms' damage, both structurally and financially.
California’s latest atmospheric river was one of two storm systems that bookended the U.S. this week. Parts of New England and New York were digging out of a nor’easter Wednesday that caused tens of thousands of power outages, numerous school cancellations and whiteout conditions on roads.
Remaining showers across Southern California were expected to decrease through Wednesday evening as the storm headed toward parts of the Great Basin. The weather service said California will see minor precipitation this weekend, followed by another substantial storm next week.
Michael McNutt, a spokesperson for the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, said the end of the Southern California restrictions is good news but cautioned people to continue to conserve water even in non-drought years.
“We all know that the next drought is just around the corner,” he said Wednesday. “We’ve got to treat the water coming out of our taps as the liquid gold that it is.”
The district depends almost entirely on state water supplies and had adopted aggressive conservation measures, including putting devices that drastically restrict water flow onto the homes of hundreds of people — including celebrities — who were deemed to be wasting water.
That program is now on hold, as is the district’s restrictions on lawn watering.
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