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Water restrictions are in place as the historic drought persists in the West


Federal forecasters say the West's historic megadrought will worsen through the spring. That's raising concerns about water shortages and fire danger. Ezra David Romero of member station KQED explains.

EZRA DAVID ROMERO, BYLINE: Lake Powell, one of the most iconic reservoirs in the West, hit an all-time low level last week. And it's not alone. Reservoirs that supply water for 2 million people in the San Jose area of California are only a quarter full. A 15% mandatory water restriction is in place, says Matt Keller with the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

MATT KELLER: We can hope for rain. But, you know, hope's not enough. We have to take action. I mean, everything is on the table.

ROMERO: About half of the district's water is imported from out of the area, majority from the Sierra Nevada snowpack a hundred miles away. But the agency is supposed to receive less than 20% of the water it usually gets from the Sierra. Similar restrictions are in place in Sacramento, the state's capital.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.


DARRELL STEINBERG: We are living through the real-life water impacts of climate change. Unfortunately, our work has just begun when it comes to conservation.

ROMERO: The megadrought across the West has stretched for more than two decades, and scientists say it's been fueled by human-caused climate change. While promised water deliveries to California's farms and cities keep dwindling, state leaders have not mandated water restrictions. But that could change. Joaquin Esquivel is on the California Water Resources Control Board.

JOAQUIN ESQUIVEL: We're preparing, imagining worst-case scenarios and empowering local communities to manage through the drought through resources.

ROMERO: Resources like millions of dollars in grants for communities who need drinking water or whose wells have gone dry. Federal meteorologists say it's not just that spring and summer will be dry; it could be warmer than normal. Jon Gottschalk is a forecaster with NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

JON GOTTSCHALK: But as we move further out into the spring and summer, we expect the odds for above-normal temperatures to increase across the entire state of California.

ROMERO: And dry conditions, especially in forests married with warm temperatures, mean a high probability of wildfire. And that's more of the same for West Coasters, who are increasingly used to living with this fire risk.

For NPR News, I'm Ezra David Romero in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWSONG'S "DESERT SONG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ezra David Romero is an award-winning radio reporter and producer. His stories have run on Morning Edition, Morning Edition Saturday, Morning Edition Sunday, All Things Considered, Here & Now, The Salt, Latino USA, KQED, KALW, Harvest Public Radio, etc.