9 Cities Running Out of Water

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3. Modesto, CA
> Exceptional drought coverage (first half of 2015):
100%
> Extreme drought coverage (first half of 2015): 100%
> Population: 358,172

Like several other drought-stricken cities, Modesto is located in California’s Central Valley between the Sierra Nevada mountains and the San Joaquin River, which are both essential sources of water for the region. Lack of precipitation during the area’s multi-year drought and particularly over this past winter has resulted in record-low snowmelt levels in the mountains. In addition, the San Joaquin River supplies 34 reservoirs, which together are at 39% of their capacity as of the end of May. One of the city’s major sources of water is the Modesto Reservoir, which draws water from the Tuolumne River. The reservoir is smaller than most in California. Over the past four years, the reservoir’s water levels reached their lowest point in September 2012 and are currently just below the historical average.

2. Merced, CA
> Exceptional drought coverage (first half of 2015):
100%
> Extreme drought coverage (first half of 2015): 100%
> Population: 136,969

Merced is in the Central Valley, an agricultural hub, which not only accounts for a considerable portion of California’s economic output, but also supports the majority of the nation’s agricultural production. The agricultural sector in the Merced metro area accounted for 13.1% of area employment, far higher than the comparable nationwide proportion of 2%. Agricultural businesses suffer more than perhaps any other industry during severe drought conditions. Agricultural employment shrank by 12.5% in Merced from 2012 through 2013, and the drought has only worsened since then. Over the first half of 2014, exceptional drought covered 78% of Merced, one of the highest percentages in the nation at that time. Over the same period this year, 100% of the city was at the maximum drought level.

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1. Hanford, CA
> Exceptional drought coverage (first half of 2015):
100%
> Extreme drought coverage (first half of 2015): 100%
> Population: 87,941

With 100% of Hanford covered by exceptional drought conditions, the city is tied with Merced, Modesto, and Fresno for the worst drought conditions in the nation. Like the other three cities, Hanford, too, is located in the Central Valley. In addition to statewide restrictions as well as city emergency regulations already in place, city officials adopted additional water restrictions this June, such as barring serving of water at restaurants other than by request as well as vehicle and driveway washing bans. In addition to water restrictions and crop and environmental damage, the drought has impacted the region’s air quality. According to a recent report from the American Lung Association, Hanford had nearly the worst air pollution of any U.S. city. The report identified the dry, hot summers and stagnant air as key contributing factors to high concentrations of particulate matter and smog.