Millions of Californians Face Water Shortage Emergency, Severe Drought Ahead of Wildfire Season

Fire scientists fear California’s intensifying drought could lead to a hotter, more dangerous wildfire season

California drought
The Klamath River in Weitchpec, California, on June 9. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty

Nearly two million Californians in the San Francisco Bay area have been placed under a water shortage emergency as the state continues to experience extreme drought.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has placed 41 of the state's 58 counties under a drought state of emergency, representing about 30% of California's population, according to a press release from the governor's office. Earlier this week, local officials in Santa Clara County declared a water shortage emergency, announcing water restrictions for the county's 2 million residents.

"We can't afford to wait to act as our water supplies are being threatened locally and across California," Tony Estremera, the director of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, said in a news release. "We are in an emergency and Valley Water must do everything we can to protect our groundwater resources and ensure we can provide safe, clean water to Santa Clara County residents and businesses."

Under the declaration, residents must reduce their water usage by 15% and are being asked to limit how often they water their lawns and fill their pools.

Officials in Santa Clara County are also responding to the crisis by turning to banked supplies and purchasing emergency water.

California as a whole is grappling with an exceptional drought after two unexpectedly dry winters, according to the New York Times. Meteorologists are predicting the drought will last through the end of the summer, creating hot, dry conditions throughout the West for the next few months.

Hundreds of houseboats in California's largest lakes and reservoirs have already been ordered to leave in preparation for historically low water levels this summer, CNN reported.

California drought
Lake Mead near Las Vegas — where water is also low — on June 10. BRIDGET BENNETT/AFP via Getty

"People are upset, but for a good reason," Jared Rael, assistant general manager at Bidwell Canyon Marina, told CNN. "They bought boats so they could be on a lake, and unfortunately we're at a spot where it is no longer safe to have their boats in certain spots on the lake because it's going to get so narrow."

Fire scientists also fear California's intensifying drought could lead to a hotter, more dangerous wildfire season.

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Crystal Kolden, a fire scientist at the University of California at Merced, told the Washington Post that drier conditions could mean fires are more severe and widespread this year.

Leftover snow and moist soils would typically quell fire growth — but without that, and with an abundance of dead trees from the drought in their place, hotter and more difficult-to-contain fires are made more likely, she added.

"Overall, it's shaping up to be a busy fire season and a very active fire season," Tom Rolinski, a fire scientist with the utility Southern California Edison, told the Washington Post. "The fact that our fuels are drier than normal, and we are in exceptional drought, is very concerning to us."

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