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California records driest year since 1924

CBS News logo CBS News 10/18/2021 Zoe Christen Jones
Bridge over urban aqueduct of Los Angeles River, Los Angeles, California, United States © Studio 642 Bridge over urban aqueduct of Los Angeles River, Los Angeles, California, United States

California has recorded its driest year in over a century, according to a report from the California Department of Water Resources. The most recent water year, a 12-month period that runs from October 1 to September 30 that's used to measure surface water, saw 11.87 inches of rain and snow. 

Several California cities, including Sacramento, San Francisco, Bakersfield and Santa Barbara, received "less than half" of their average annual rain and snowfall, according to California Water Resources. The amount of measured precipitation makes the 2020-2021 season the second driest year in California history. 

The driest year ever recorded was 1924, but the report said that 2020-2021 mirrored the drought conditions of 1977, a drought year that saw the lowest level of water runoff in the state's recorded history. California usually receives an average of 28.2 inches of rainfall, according to the Department of Water Resources. 

1977 was characterized in the report as a "year with no water," but 2020-2021 was a "hotter year with no water," because of the combination of low precipitation with extremely high temperatures. The temperature trends have also exacerbated fire season in the west. 2020 recorded California's largest fire in state history, with over 8 million acres burned in California alone, according to Cal Fire.

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California Water Resources noted that the dry year is part of a larger California drought trend that has spanned the past three years. In May 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom expanded the state's drought emergency to cover 30% of the population, citing extreme "water shortages."

"The hots are getting a lot hotter in this state, the dries are getting a lot drier," Newsom said. "We have a conveyance system, a water system, that was designed for a world that no longer exists."

Severe water restrictions have been put in place for California residents, who were asked by Newsom to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 15% to "help maintain critical flows" for industries. In August, the state water board approved a motion to restrict water access for California farmers to prevent further risk to the drinking water supply. 

In the California tourist town of Mendocino, the lack of rain has caused the reservoir to fall below normal limits, leaving residents scrambling before they run out of water. 

"It's dire and it's only getting worse," Ryan Rhoades, the town's groundwater manager told CBS News. 

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the amount of rain and snow California received in the 2020-2021 water year.

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