Despite last spring's predictions of disaster most of California's croplands and forests successfully have weathered the most severe drought in the state's recorded history.

Drought experts still are full of direforecasts about what will happen next year if California goes through another winter in which rainfall and Sierra snowpack fall below normal. But California's farmers are now reaping bumper harvests, and both trees and wildlife are reported in surprisingly good condition.

Municipal water conservation of forts have been so successful that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the nation's largest municipal utility, soon will be seeking a rate increase of 20 per cent to make up for revenues lost through conversation.

California produces and one-third of the nation's vegetables, and it was believed last spring that as much as two-thirds of this crop might be lost because of drought.

Instead, harvests of fruit and vegetables are equaling or exceeding harvests of last year. Farmers will harvest 6.5 million tons of tomatoes, a key crop and one that requires a lot of water, compares with 5.6 million tons in 1976.

Overall, state Department of Agriculture officials expect that agricultural production in California will gross $9.5 billion compared with $9.1 billion last year. But the net income of farmers will decrease from $2.5 billion to $2.1 billion because of higher water and energy costs.

Human efforts and some unexplained caprices of nature have helped farmers and foresters reduce effects of the drought.

"There is a significant shift in cropping patterns and farmers made a strong effort to use their water more efficiently," said Daniel M. Dooley chief deputy director of the state Department of Agriculture.

Farmers reactivated old wells and drilled new ones - some as deep as 1,700 feet - at costs that ran as high as $100,000 a well. They also recycled water which had been wasted in prior years and in some areas resorted to a form of irrigation in which water is trickled by individual hoses to the roots of each tree in an orchard, rather than wasted in arching sprays.

Some farmers started drip irrigating from their wells as early as last January, realizing that their usual plentiful supply of irrigation water would not be available in the spring.

While all of California is considered a drought area, condition vary widely within the state. The fertile Coachellas Valley in extreme Southern California has received 130 per cent of normal annual rainfall and tomato acreage there has been increased while tomato planting was declining in the San Joaquin Valley.

William F. McFarlane, president of the Westside Farmers in Fresno County, estimates that water costs in the San Joaquin Valley - including energy costs of pumping water - have increased from $40 or $50 an acre-foot two years ago to $80 an acre-foot this year. (An acre-foot is te amount of water that will cover one acre to the depth of one foot).

Because of their heavy investments in water-producing systems, farmers have emphasized cash crops such as cotton and tomatoes at the cost of pastureland and , to some degree, of grain production.

"They put money in those crops and let the pastures suffer," said Odell Larson, Department of Agriculture statistician.

Wildlife and trees have survived the drought beyond expectations.

The biggest threat to forest lands is not dramatic danger of fire, but the quiet, gnawing one of the Western pine bark beetle, which lays eggs in trees and produces three generations of beetles a year, which can kill old or drought-weakened trees.

Earlier this year, forestry officials feared beetles would cause record losses in water-stained trees, but "for some unexplained reason, there is a lost generation," said James Denny, chief of resources management for the California Department of Forestry. "We have had increasing loses from bark beetle infestation, but the loss of this generation prevented the infestation from becoming an epidemic."

Neither have the acreage losses from fire reached the levels forecast by state and federal officials. The timber loss has been high because of three big fires in northwestern California. Estimates of state officials and private industry are that 400 milion board feet of timber have been lost or damaged.

But significant portions of this timber, perhaps half of it, will be salvaged. Nonetheless, some fire-ravaged lands will not have harvestable trees for 50 years.

Deer and other wildlife have survived the summer drought in good condition. However, fish and game officials still fear wildlife losses this fall because there is no excess water to flood the duck ponds which abound in central California.

And the drought's effect on California's dwindling salmon fishery has been seen severe.

Leonard Fiske, chief of planning for the Department of Fish and Game, says the water that will be released from reservoirs into the upper Sacramento River this year to help the salmon spawning run will be too warm to allow the fish to spawn.

So, fish and game officials will take 5,000 salmon - about one-10th of the Northern California salmon run - out of the river at a diversion dam near Red Bluff and put them into anothe river, the Feather, where waters are cold enough for spawning. The resultant eggs will be kept in the fish hatchery and the young fish released into the Sacramento River next spring.

This sort of innovative response to the drought typifies the reaction of a traditionally wasteful population that has finally begun to take conservation seriously. The same reaction has occured in California's cities.

In Los Angeles, citizens reacted to a mandatory 10 per cent water use cut by cutting use more than 20 per cent.

"We learned in the energy crisis five years ago that people continued to conserve energy after the crisis has passed," said water department official Elizabeth Wimmer. "They won't go back to their old way on water use, either."

Of course, even the new ways won't be good enough if California suffers through another winter like last year. Surface reservoirs now hold one-third of their normal amount, and California farmers this year had an "overdraft" of 6 million acre-feet of ground water - meaning that they used 6 million more acre-feet of water from underground sources than they replaced.

The weather forecast this year on the Pacific Coast is for 70 per cent of normal rainfall. This would mean considerably less than 70 per cent of the normal runoff from the mountain snowpack because the ground is dry and will absorb a great deal of moisture before any runsoff.

Still, California agriculture and forest lands probably will continue to thrive if this 70 per cent forecast proves accurate.

"The reservoirs wouldn't fully recover and water cost would be high, but we'd get through," says James McDaniel, chief of the State Drought Center. "With70 per cent, I'd suspect we'd continue on the same basis next year."