California Cities Brace for Water Cuts and a Fourth Year of Drought

The Bureau of Reclamation warned that it will be "difficult, if not impossible" to meet water demands if dry conditions don't ease up.

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The Pit River Bridge stretches over a drying section of Shasta Lake in Lakehead, California on October 16, 2022.
The Pit River Bridge stretches over a drying section of Shasta Lake in Lakehead, California on October 16, 2022.
Photo: JOSH EDELSON/AFP (Getty Images)

Federal water authorities warned California cities and industrial water users to prepare for water cuts in 2023 as the state enters what is likely to be a fourth consecutive year of drought.

The potential cuts will affect cities and water users that draw from the Central Valley Project, which is a network of water management facilities like dams and reservoirs throughout Central California. It supplies water to major urban centers in California, including the Greater Sacramento area. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees water management, explained in a Monday press release that, despite several storms earlier this month, the overall dry conditions have not relented.

“Shasta Reservoir, the state’s largest reservoir and cornerstone of the Central Valley Project, is currently at 31% capacity,” the agency’s statement explained. “If drought conditions extend into 2023, Reclamation will find it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to meet all the competing needs of the Central Valley Project without beginning the implementation of additional and more severe water conservation actions.”

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The Bureau’s statement also explained that the water restriction announcement comes after the “worst three-year drought period on record” for the state.

If drought conditions continue into next year, California residents will see water cuts and the energy sector will be affected, too. Central Valley Project facilities include hydroelectric power plants that create energy using the water in large reservoirs. Earlier this year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration found that the state’s hydropower capacity decreased due to the historically low water levels in major reservoirs like Lake Shasta.

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The American West is withering under the worst drought the country has experienced in over 1,000 years. As of this writing, much of central California is currently experiencing exceptional and extreme drought conditions. Most of the state is experiencing some form of drought. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted in October that the alarmingly dry conditions in the U.S. are likely to continue at least through this winter.