From: Washington Post
Published January 14, 2009 08:30 AM

In California, Hot and Dry Conditions Stir Drought Concerns

SAN FRANCISCO -- The past two days have felt like summer in California, as unseasonable warmth sweeps the state -- possibly presaging a third straight year of drought, a worrisome possibility for a state already hit hard by the economic downturn.

Another dry year could mean water rationing for businesses and individuals. It could also slow business expansion and affect the agricultural industry, ski resorts and efforts to keep firefighting costs down, after a year in which state and federal officials spent $1 billion combating wildfires.

Temperatures jumped to 90 degrees in parts of California on Monday and Tuesday. With no rain forecast for the next week, the state is on track for one of its driest Januarys ever, said state climatologist Michael Anderson.

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Even before this week, the state was facing a water shortage, said Sue Sims, chief deputy director for the state Department of Water Resources. Reservoirs are well below normal levels, and snowfall in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, a primary source of water for the state, is down to about two-thirds of normal so far this year, said Mr. Anderson.

"We got a state where water falls in the north, but most of the population is in the south. Unlike some of the East Coast states, where it rains pretty much year-round in most of the state, we have a hydrology here that depends upon a winter snowpack and being able to move water north or south," Ms. Sims said.

The water shortage is forcing municipal governments to reconsider issuing new business licenses, Ms. Sims said. "If you can't be certain you got a water supply, I think there's no doubt that jobs in the business sector get impacted," she said.

Municipal water boards may need to ration water use this year, Ms. Sims said. Typically, they would implement a pricing structure in which, say, 80% of the water normally used is kept at current rates, while any water use over that would be charged a premium rate.

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