The latest Drought Monitor report from U.S. agriculture and weather experts finds 58 percent of California in the worst of its four drought levels, in conditions normally seen only once every 50-100 years.
For our Newscast unit, Nathan Rott reports:
"The U.S. Drought Monitor measures drought in five levels. The most benign is called Abnormally Dry. The worst is labeled Exceptional Drought. As of this week, roughly 58 percent of California is considered to be afflicted by that last category. Three months ago, only a quarter of the state was.
"The report also says that the state is short more than a year's worth of water in its reservoirs and that the state's topsoil reserves are nearly depleted.
"State officials are asking for residents to reduce their water usage by 20 percent. New regulations are going into effect this week that allow authorities to fine people up to $500 a day for wasting water."
In central and northern parts of California, conditions have worsened to the most extreme level, driven by hot weather and wildfires, according to the report.
Because of its persistent drought, California's governor declared the state to be under a state of emergency in January; the situation has only grown worse since then.
The dire conditions are making drought experts consider creating a new category — a "D5" that would surpass its current most-extreme level, D4. But as member station KPCC, they're hampered by having only 120 years' worth of records.
"We would never use it, because we don't have the database to support it," KPCC quotes Department of Agriculture meteorologist Brad Rippey, an author of the drought report. "But something in the order of a 1-in-100 to 1-in-200-year drought would be the equivalent of what we would call this theoretical D5."
News of the drought's severity comes as member station KQED reports that there is an "alarming lack of information" about California's biggest water source: the state's underground reservoirs.