9. Fresno County
> Pct. area with exceptional drought: 60.9%
> Metro area: Fresno
> Total population: 974,861
> Pct. labor force employed in agriculture: 10.3%
Nearly 61% of Fresno County is experiencing the worst level of drought. While this proportion represents one of the worst drought levels in both the state and the country, that actually represents a meaningful improvement for Fresno County and its nearly 1 million residents. Before mid-April, the entire county had been in the highest level of drought since the beginning of 2015. In April, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention issued a warning to the county that acres of dry and dead trees pose a serious risk of major wildfires. Cal Fire has started removing dead and dying trees from the area with the hope of avoiding a catastrophe.
8. Kern County
> Pct. area with exceptional drought: 73.1%
> Metro area: Bakersfield
> Total population: 882,176
> Pct. labor force employed in agriculture: 16.4%
While drought conditions have improved in much of the country and the state of California, conditions in Kern County did not improve. Between 60% and 80% of the county has been in the worst level of drought for more than two years. Last year, Kern River nearly reached its lowest level in decades. The low river flow severely hindered regional tourism that relies on fishing and rafting in the river. A wet winter appears to have meaningfully improved levels in the river this year, but Kern still currently is the eighth most drought-stricken U.S. county.
7. Orange County
> Pct. area with exceptional drought: 73.5%
> Metro area: Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim
> Total population: 3,169,776
> Pct. labor force employed in agriculture: 0.5%
Orange County’s only natural lake dried up completely last year. The county relies on a large underground basin to supply water for the majority of its population. While Orange County Water District admits that the historic drought has lowered water levels in the basin, it contends that it is still within acceptable parameters. Exceptionally dry conditions in the region can result in other potential issues, specifically dead and dying trees that can increase the risk of wildfire.
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