California struggles to conserve what little water that's left

PIXLEY, Calif. -- In the midst of a historic drought, California imposed new restrictions Tuesday on water use.

State regulators voted to outlaw watering lawns more than twice a week, and within 48 hours of a rain storm. Restaurants can only serve water if customers request it.

Almost all of California, 93 percent, is facing "severe" drought. In 67 percent of the state, it's "extreme."

The March measurement of the snow pack in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains came just after a fresh snowfall.

But that couldn't hide the fact that after the driest January on record, the state's reservoirs may hold just one year's water supply.

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Frank Gehrke of the California Department of Water Resources conducts the third Sierra Nevada snow survey of the season on Tuesday, March 3, 2015, near Echo Summit, California.
CBS News

"It makes for scenic photographs, but really has minimal impact in terms of water supply," says Frank Gehrke of the California Department of Water Resources

Well drillers in the state have been busy. Steve Arthur has had farmers lined up for one of his half-dozen rigs, which aren't finding water until 1,000 or 1,200 feet below ground.

"From this job site, we go up the road here about a mile and half, we got another thousand-footer," Arthur says.

The need for deeper wells adds to worry that the water table under the Central Valley is being depleted. Dairy farmer Joey Airosa depends on well water to grow feed for his 2,700 cows.

He's worried that there will come a time that no matter how deep he drills, he won't be able to pump up water.

"I think everybody's worried about that," Airosa says.

NASA water scientist Jay Famiglietti uses a satellite to measure the drought. The latest images show California is drying out, 11 trillion gallons below normal.

"To satisfy this deficit of 11 trillion gallons of storage, we would need about three years of above-average precipitation," Famiglietti says.

But with California going into a fourth year of drought, farmers are worried some of the most-productive agricultural land in the country is on its way to becoming desert.

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.