- The Washington Times - Monday, July 1, 2002

BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. (AP) Vintage Lakeside Prime Steak and Seafood has a problem this summer: its name.
One of the driest years on record in Southern California has shrunk Big Bear Lake, leaving the "lakeside" restaurant a long way from the water's edge. The restaurant's neat lawn overlooks a 100-foot field of brown grass and dried mud.
"We used to be right on the waterfront. It was nicer when the water lapped up by the rocks here," manager Mike Walker said.
Yesterday marked the end of the rainfall year, bracketing the fall and winter months that usually bring most of the moisture to California. While rain and snowfall totals were near normal in the northern part of the state, the story was much different in Southern California, which received less than a third of normal rainfall.
Los Angeles, which on average receives 15.1 inches of rain from July 1 to June 30, received 4.4 inches this past year. San Diego received 3 inches, 30 percent of normal.
The lack of rain has dried out trees, brush and grass, contributing to fires that have burned more than 75,000 acres in Southern California. It has forced rural communities that rely on wells to conserve water, and ranchers and farmers to cut production.
The effects are more pronounced in mountain communities that depend on local wells and are nestled among thick, drying forests.
Lake Arrowhead and Crestline, near Big Bear Lake, have canceled their annual fireworks celebrations because of the fire threat. In the Angeles and San Bernardino national forests, bark beetles have feasted on thirsty and weakened pine trees, leaving them vulnerable to wildfire.
"The vegetation is particularly dry this year, which means that things ignite a lot easier," said Kathy Peterson, spokeswoman for the Angeles National Forest.
The drought also has forced some ranchers to sell their livestock.
"There's nothing but dirt," Santa Paula rancher Rob Frost said of the surrounding foothills where he grazes cattle.
Mr. Frost, president of the California Cattlemen's Association, said he and his partners sold half their 700-head herd this spring, in part because there wasn't enough grass.
With years of meager winter snowfall and spring rains, Western states from Arizona to Montana are declaring drought emergencies as reservoirs decline and wildlife dwindles.
Big Bear Lake has dropped nearly 12 feet this year, and some business owners worry that if it continues to shrink the town won't be able to attract the campers, boaters and other tourists it needs to survive until ski season. The town, in the midst of its third dry year in a row, already has ordered residents to restrict water use.
While some above-normal rainfall is expected over much of Colorado and eastern Utah, forecasters say it won't be enough to improve the drought.
Many are hoping an anticipated El Nino weather pattern will end the Southern Californian drought in the winter. But Jano Wiak, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said that's not likely.
"We do expect a weak to possibly moderate El Nino," he said. "But we don't think it's going to be a player in the California wintertime precipitation."

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