Large swaths of California remained in the most severe drought category in this week’s U.S. Drought Monitor report.
More than 33 percent of California is in exceptional drought, the most severe of the Monitor’s four categories. Conditions worsened in northeast California, which in now almost completely in extreme drought, according to the report released Thursday.
Just three months ago, only 4 percent of the state was under exceptional drought.
All of California is in some level of drought after a dry winter and spring. One year ago, 68 percent of California was in drought.
In Central California, farmers were warned about potential water cutoffs. Most of that region is under extreme or exceptional drought.
Most of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties are in extreme drought. Orange County and a swath of Riverside County remain in severe drought.
The worst conditions are in Kern County north of Los Angeles, east-central California and a portion of Northern California.
Droughts are common in California, where dry spells are often followed by wet winters that replenish the state's critical snowpack and water reservoirs, but conditions this year are hotter and drier than others.
That means water evaporates at a faster rate from reservoirs and the sparse Sierra Nevada snowpack that feeds them. The snowpack usually melts in spring or early summer, then that water flows into the state’s vast storage and distribution system.
California has more than 500 reservoirs, which were 50% lower than they should be at the start of June, Jay Lund, co-director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California-Davis, told the Associated Press earlier this month.
These photos show the dramatic impact of the current dry spell at California’s lakes and reservoirs.
California's Mediterranean-style climate means the summers are always dry and the winters are not always wet. The state's reservoirs act as a savings account, storing water in the wet years to help the state survive during the dry ones.
Last year was the third driest on record in terms of precipitation.
State officials were surprised earlier this year when about 500,000 acre feet (61,674 hectare meters) of water they were expecting to flow into reservoirs never showed up. One acre-foot is enough water to supply up to two households for one year.
Dry conditions also increase wildfire danger. California has already seen a 26-percent increase in wildfire activity and a 58 percent increase in acreage burned compared to last year at this time, CALFIRE said.
About three-quarters of the American West is in what is called a megadrought, with critical waterways like the Colorado River and Rio Grande that supply millions of people and farms expected to have dismally low flows this year.