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'Historic' Drought Forces Water Restrictions In NorCal, But Restrictions Could Soon Extend Statewide

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) – With California entering what is believed to be a historic drought, mandatory water restrictions were ordered last week for nearly 200,000 residents in Marin County.

Dry Riverbed In Santa Clara drought
Dry and cracked riverbed is seen during drought season on April 23, 2021 in Santa Clara County, California. (Photo by Liu Guanguan/China News Service via Getty Images)

The Marin Municipal Water District on April 20 enacted a series of water conservation rules, including banning home car washes, no watering of outdoor lawns between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., and no refilling decorative pools or fountains.

A day later, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency for the Russian River watershed in Mendocino and Sonoma counties. Marin County borders Sonoma.

Newsom chose to make the declaration in those two counties only, rather than statewide, as some officials and farmers in the agricultural-rich Central Valley had hoped. But Newsom said a broader drought declaration could come as conditions change.

"If you're in a different part of the state, you probably need to know that this will one day happen to you," Karla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said of the drought declaration.

According to the latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor Thursday, nearly all of Los Angeles, Ventura, San Bernardino, Riverside and Kern counties are now under extreme drought conditions, while Orange County is under a severe drought.

California, which is now in its second year of drought, is bracing for another devastating wildfire season after a winter with little precipitation.

"Oftentimes we overstate the word historic, but this is indeed an historic moment, certainly historic for this particular lake, Mendocino," Newsom said, standing in Mendocino Lake where 40 feet of lake water was supposed to be. The lake is at about 40% of normal capacity.

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. The White House on Wednesday announced the creation of a working group helmed by the Interior and Agriculture departments to address worsening drought conditions in the U.S. West.

The California Department of Water Resources said this is California's fourth-driest year on record, especially in the northern two-thirds of the state. But Newsom said people in cities also are using 16% less water than they were at the start of the last major drought, which lasted from 2012 to 2016. That drought prompted then-Gov. Jerry Brown to impose broad restrictions on water use that affected nearly everyone in the nation's most populated state.

The U.S. Drought Monitor is released weekly as part of partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the USDA.

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