Policy

California's Drought in Two Terrifying Charts


The Golden State is parched. California’s water reserves typically replenish over the winter, but the current drought is worsening in what’s supposed to be the wettest time of the year.

Almost 9 percent of the state is in “exceptional” drought, the most severe designation from the U.S. Drought Monitor, an interagency report whose classifications are based on measures of precipitation, soil moisture, and other factors. The “exceptional” rating, also known as “D4,” is reserved for dry spells so intense they occur fewer than once in 50 years. It’s the first time California has had any D4 areas since the Drought Monitor was launched in 2000. More than 98 percent of California land is now considered at least abnormally dry.

California’s reservoirs are holding just 39 percent of their combined capacity, when typically they should be 64 percent full by this time in winter. That has prompted the state to do something it’s never done before: At the end of January, officials cut to zero (pdf) the amount of water that local authorities could draw from the series of reservoirs that supply 25 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland. Snowpack is at just 12 percent of levels typical this time of year, leaving little hope that the reserves will be replenished soon.

Without deliveries from the state reservoirs, cities are asking residents and businesses to conserve water, Bloomberg News reports. People are prohibited from washing cars, filling swimming pools, and watering lawns during the daytime, and farmers are letting thousands of acres lie fallow. All that, and it’s not even summer.

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Weise is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in Seattle. Follow her on Twitter @kyweise.

Tucker is a graphics intern for Bloomberg Businessweek. Follow him on Twitter @tophtucker.

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