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California’s catastrophic drought keeps getting worse

A brown lawn seen near Los Angeles this week. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty)
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The historic drought that has been plaguing California has somehow gotten even worse. On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported that more than half of the state is now in experiencing “exceptional” drought, the most severe category available. And most of the state — 81 percent — currently has one of the two most intense levels of drought:

The drought’s incredible three-year duration has nearly depleted both the state’s topsoil moisture and subsoil moisture reserves, according to Brad Rippey of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who wrote the Drought Monitor report. And California is now short more than a full year’s worth of reservoir water, he wrote.

In January, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) declared a state of emergency, calling on Californians to conserve water whenever possible. Earlier this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned that the drought in California could intensify. And even before the Drought Monitor reported that more than half the state was experiencing exceptional drought, this drought was already deemed the most severe the Drought Monitor has tracked in the last 14 years.

This drought is already having a particularly brutal effect on farmers, while the consequences could continue to extend to consumers heading to the grocery store. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has said that the drought and these moisture deficits could seriously impact the prices of fruits, vegetables and dairy products for years to come, because California is a big producer of these items.

Of course, not everyone is decreasing their water usage. Water use in urban areas actually went up by 1 percent in May, largely due to an 8 percent increase in water usage seen in the coastal portion of the state. As a result, some areas have sent out “water cops” to look for people who are using more than they should.

Some Californians have begun to turn on their neighbors, complaining to utilities and agencies when they see people over-watering or even setting up a Slip ‘N Slide at a child’s birthday party. They have used hashtags like #DroughtShaming and apps meant to serve as digital neighborhood watch groups to call out offenders and snitch on people deemed to be wasting water.

New regulations went into effect across the state on Tuesday barring people from washing driveways or sidewalks, according to California’s State Water Resources Control Board. These regulations — which went into effect the same day as a massive water main break in Los Angeles that dumped millions of gallons of water onto the UCLA campus — were approved earlier this month because many areas in the state rely on voluntary conservation, which has not been sufficiently effective.

While California’s problems are particularly severe, that state is not alone in experiencing significant drought right now. There are wide swaths of moderate to severe drought stretching from Oregon to Texas, with problems impacting numerous states west of the Mississippi River.

Some of the most severe droughts outside of California are impacting large pockets in Oklahoma, Texas and, particularly, Nevada, where more than half of the state is currently experiencing one of the two most intense drought conditions: