Exceptional drought conditions expanded this week to include more than half of California, marking a significant increase over just one week for a state in the middle of a third-consecutive dry year.
The most severe drought rating expanded to more than 58 percent of California, a 22 percent increase over last week's U.S. Drought Monitor report. At the start of the year, no part of the state was under the "exceptional" category. But that figure increased steadily after the state completed its warmest and third-driest winter on record.
The dire appraisal of current conditions comes as new, tougher restrictions on water use take effect across the parched state. Wasting water by overwatering laws, for example, could result in fines of up to $500 a day under the new rules.
"We are in a drought of historic proportions," State Water Resources Control Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus told The Associated Press earlier this month. "Many urban water users don't realize how bad this drought is. They're not seeing the communities that are actually running out of water. ... They don't see the streams and creeks running dry."
Exceptional drought spread significantly in the northern part of the state over the past week. Previously, the most severe conditions were confined to the a large swath of the Central Coast and Central Valley. The weekly report categorizes drought severity into abnormally Dry (D0), Moderate (D1), Severe (D2), Extreme (D3) and Exceptional (D4).
"Drought indicators point to the fact that conditions are not appreciably better in northern California than in central and southern sections of the state," according to the U.S. Drought Monitor report. "In addition, mounting evidence from reservoir levels, river gauges, ground water observations, and socio-economic impacts warrant a further expansion of exceptional drought (D4) into northern California."
Storage in California's 154 intrastate reservoirs -- those that are entirely within the state -- was at 60 percent of the historical average at the end of June. The record low is 41 percent of average, which occurred in June 1977.
The new statewide regulations approved earlier this month by the state water resources board include a $500-per-day fine for residents who waste water. The rules make it illegal for people to hose down driveways and sidewalks, waste water on their lawns or wash vehicles using a hose without a shut-off nozzle.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated that the new water use rules would go into effect Aug. 1. The regulations took effect July 29.