SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - A moderate dose of winter rainfall hasn't ended California's historic drought, but it has dropped just enough moisture on the beleaguered state to help 14 communities that had risked running out of water.

In January, public health officials in the most populous U.S. state said that 17 communities were at risk of running out of water in 60 to 90 days.

But now just three small communities were at risk, one in the central part of the state and two in the north, Department of Public Health spokeswoman Anita Gore said on Thursday.

Gore said the towns' troubles had been eased due to a combination of intervention from the state and a series of storms that dropped up to 11 inches at a time on the parched state during February and March.

In the town of Willits, for example, a grant from the state helped to pay for a backup water treatment plant constructed within weeks of the drought's declaration by Governor Jerry Brown in January.

In other communities, the state has helped dig new wells and extend pipelines so small water systems could be expanded.

But Gore cautioned that the drought was not over.

"The emphasis on drought-related drinking water concerns continues," she said in an email. "While the recent rains throughout the state helped ease the immediate supply concerns for some systems, this is the third dry year in a row and the recent rains will not end the drought."

Conservation will continue to be crucial as the drought continues, she said.

Rain is predicted for parts of Northern California this weekend.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Bernard Orr)