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Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, recent rains have turned the hills around Sonoma County a beautiful Kelly green reminiscent of the Irish countryside.

But while the much needed precipitation — more than 10 inches in places since Feb. 1 — has helped farmers and ranchers, water managers caution that the drought is not over.

"The drought is still on," said Brad Sherwood, spokesman for the Sonoma County Water Agency. "When you look at storage levels in our reservoirs, we're still well below average."

Sherwood said both March and April would have to come in well ahead of averages for storage levels to recover.

Five weeks ago, after the driest year followed by the driest January on record, ranchers were trucking in water to soak pastures that were brown and withered.

February brought some relief. It rained 9.33 inches in Santa Rosa during the month, the 13th-wettest February on record. Average rainfall for the month is 6 inches.

With the recent rains, including more than 2 inches in Santa Rosa and upward of 8 inches in the wettest parts of the coastal hills in the past week alone, fields are full of green grass for livestock.

"Grass is growing. There's some pasture out there for cattle and sheep," said Tim Tesconi, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau. "These rains are coming just at the right time."

The drought status in much of the county, as well as parts of Lake and Mendocino counties, was upgraded from "extreme" to just "severe," according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The county's reservoirs have risen recently, Sherwood said. Lake Mendocino, which he said dipped as low as 35 percent capacity this winter, is now around 50 percent. Lake Sonoma, which he said fell to about 65 percent capacity, is now above 70 percent. Capacity could improve into the weekend as the rain that fell in recent days makes its way into reservoirs.

However, the reservoir levels are not where they should be, he said. Normally, at this time of year, they'd be at capacity.

"We're still in a deficit for rainfall," he said.

Santa Rosa's rainfall since July 1 is around 12 inches, which is about 50 percent of normal.

March generally marks the end of the rainy season with precipitation tapering off into the summer, which is usually dry.

The National Weather Service this week issued an El Nino watch, meaning the summer and fall could see some rain. El Nino weather patterns happen periodically with the warming of the Pacific Ocean resulting in wet conditions in parts of the world.

Jim Mathews, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said it is too early to tell what the coming El Nino will do to weather in Sonoma County.

"The strength of the El Nino is uncertain," he said. "Most weak to moderate El Ninos actually produce drier years in Northern California. Only strong El Ninos favor wet conditions."

In the short-term, The National Weather Service predicts a wet weather system moving across Sonoma County Sunday and Monday followed by a return to warm, dry weather for at least a week.

(Staff Writer Jamie Hansen contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or matt.brown@pressdemocrat.com.)

Pot around Sonoma County

Three Sonoma County cannabis dispensaries will be open for adult-use sales on Jan. 1, 2018:

Solful
11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
785 Gravenstein Hwy. S., Sebastopol

SPARC/Peace in Medicine
10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
6771 Sebastopol Ave. #100, Sebastopol

Mercy Wellness of Cotati
9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
7950 Redwood Drive #8, Cotati

Pot around Sonoma County

Sebastopol: Adult-use and medical cannabis sales take place at the city’s two dispensaries. Manufacturing and other aspects of the business will be considered in 2018. Indoor cultivation for personal use is allowed.

Cotati: Allows adult-use and medical cannabis sales at its sole dispensary.

Santa Rosa: Medical marijuana businesses are allowed in the city. Santa Rosa will allow sales of adult-use cannabis on Jan. 19. Indoor cultivation for personal use is allowed.

Cloverdale: Up to two cannabis dispensaries are allowed in the city, although there are none currently. Manufacturing, distribution and cultivation business permit applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Petaluma: Allows cannabis delivery services and some cannabis manufacturing but has not allowed any dispensaries inside city limits.

Windsor: Dispensaries and other types of cannabis businesses as well as outdoor cultivation is banned in Windsor. Residents must get a town permit for personal-use cultivation, which is only allowed to occur indoors.

Sonoma city: Cannabis cultivation, indoor and outdoor, is banned but the rule will be reconsidered December 2018. Delivery businesses with headquarters outside the city must acquire a city permit to conduct deliveries in the city. Some personal cultivation is allowed but residents must comply with a variety of city requirements like security systems.

Sonoma County: Rules are in places for medical marijuana businesses and supervisors will consider rules for adult use in 2018.

Rohnert Park: Does not all manufacturing, distributing or selling marijuana within city limits.

Healdsburg: Prohibits medical marijuana dispensaries.

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Find more in-depth cannabis news, culture and politics at EmeraldReport.com, authoritative marijuana coverage from the PD.

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