California just hit an alarming milestone as the drought now marks the state’s driest three years ever recorded, exceeding the drought of 2013-15, according to the Los Angeles Times. And it’s looking likely that California will make a run at a fourth year record, officials said Monday, as the Golden State begins its new “water year,” which runs from October 1 to September 30.
Long-term forecasts indicate that warmer and drier than average conditions will continue.
“This is our new climate reality, and we must adapt,” Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth said in a statement. “As California transitions to a hotter, drier future, our extreme swings from wet and dry conditions will continue. We are preparing now for continued extreme drought and working with our federal, state, local and academic partners to plan for a future where we see less overall precipitation and more rain than snow.”
California’s 2022 water year started with a wet October through December marked by snow, followed by the driest January through March in over 100 years. Nearly 95 percent of California remains in “extreme, exceptional or severe drought,” the three worst categories under the U.S. Drought Monitor, according to the Times.
This pattern echoed the previous drought, said State Climatologist Michael Anderson to the State Water Resources Control Board during a meeting Monday.
Except more of the same, he said: “This year, we outdid that—a decade later, drier and warmer than 2013,” he said. “And that is something else we expect to see: These things we thought would be once in a lifetime, once in a career, are now going to be episodic and may in some instances become commonplace, which will truly be challenging.”
One thing’s for sure: water conservation will become a “way of life” for Californians, officials said. State residents reduced their average water use to the second-lowest levels ever in gallons per day—after 2015, when Governor Jerry Brown issued statewide mandates, according to Charlotte Ely, conservation supervisor at the State Water Resources Control Board.
“We’re continuing the trend that we’ve observed since May,” Ely said. “These double-digit numbers that we’re seeing really show that people, and the urban retail water suppliers that serve them, are taking these more aggressive actions to curb and reduce water use.”
Ely said that cumulative savings since July 2021, when Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency and asked all residents to voluntarily cut back on water consumption by 15 percent, are at four percent.
Water Board Chair Joaquin Esquivel said the pattern of extremes—wetness paired with dryness—makes it difficult to to manage the state’s water.
“This kind of dynamism that we’re seeing—where we have these flood events even with general drying and aridity as well—it’s a lot to be watching,” he said. “And really, ultimately, means we have to simply be prepared for both.”
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