California Reservoirs Are Half-Empty, Recalling Historic Drought

California’s reservoirs are half-empty and dryness has reached levels similar to 2014 and 2015, when the state suffered an historic drought.

The state, known for its water-intense almond production, is facing its third driest year on record, according to a report issued by the Department of Water Resources Thursday. The last time California was this dry, the state imposed widespread water-use restrictions, some of which have since become law.

The state’s April 1 report on snow across the Sierra Nevada is key in determining California’s water resources for the rest of the spring, summer and fall. The state received just half of its usual precipitation this year. And while winter has brought more snow than rain to many areas, the ground below may be so dry that the soil absorbs the moisture before it can fill reservoirs, said Sean de Guzman, chief of the department’s snow surveys and water supply forecasting section.

“The next few weeks are just really critical to watch,” said de Guzman.

Only two of the state’s 12 largest reservoirs are above normal levels, and almost 91% of California is in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Nearly the entire state is abnormally dry, the monitor said in its latest report Thursday.

The dryness is bound to boost wildfire threats, leading to preventative blackouts and raising liability for the state’s electric utilities. Wildfires last year burned an unprecedented 4.1 million acres and Californians from San Diego to Santa Rosa suffered through round after round of related power outages. Fire conditions have already reached elevated risks across Southern California in the past week, according to the U.S. Storm Prediction Center.

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