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As California starts handing out its first fines to water-wasters, new data reveals the state’s crippling drought conditions have never been worse. As of Tuesday — the same day the stricter restrictions went into effect — more than 58 percent of the state was in an “exceptional drought” stage, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map. That’s a drastic jump from just a week earlier when about 36 percent of the state was suffering under exceptional drought, meaning there’s widespread crop and pasture losses and shortages of water in reservoirs, streams and wells. In comparison, there were no areas in California categorized as exceptional — the most extreme category — at the beginning of the year even amid a three-year dry period.
The drought report, released Thursday by the National Drought Mitigation Center, warned that bone-dry conditions have now spread farther into Northern California. Overall, the state is “short more than one year’s worth of reservoir water, or 11.6 million acre-feet, for this time of year,” the report said. The drought that began three years ago has also “nearly depleted” the state’s topsoil moisture reserves. These tinderbox conditions have only exacerbated the wildfire season this year. Meanwhile, residents caught hosing sidewalks or driveways or excessively watering their lawns can now be slapped with a $500 fine.