Special Report

10 Cities Running Out of Water

4. Gilroy–Morgan Hill, Calif.
> Exceptional drought coverage (2014): 79.4%
> Extreme drought coverage (2014): 96.4%
> Population: 98,413

Gilroy–Morgan Hill is located in Santa Clara County in Northern California. Like a few other California urban areas with the worst drought, extreme and exceptionally dry conditions were not recorded at all last year. Over the first seven months of this year, nearly 80% of Morgan Hill was engulfed in the highest level of drought. As a result, the region is among several with an increased risk of wildfire. Just last month, the Curie Fire burned around 125 acres. Local officials have enacted a number of restrictions to preserve the water supply. The area’s nearly 100,000 residents are not permitted to wash vehicles or to clean pavement with hoses, for example. Restaurants and other establishments in the area are also required to serve drinking water only upon request.

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3. Salinas, Calif.
> Exceptional drought coverage (2014): 85.3%
> Extreme drought coverage (2014): 96.4%
> Population: 184,809

Salinas City is the county seat of Monterey County, where nearly 5,000 acres burned this past June in one of several wildfires recorded in recent months in the county. According to the city’s website, the Salinas Valley is the “Salad Bowl of the World,” as it produces approximately 70% of the nation’s lettuce. But as Salinas recorded just a fraction of the average 15 inches of rainfall usually recorded during the wet season, many crops will likely continue to suffer. More than 85% of the Salinas urban area was engulfed in exceptional drought through the first seven months of this year, on average.

2. Hanford, Calif.
> Exceptional drought coverage (2014): 85.4%
> Extreme drought coverage (2014): 100%
> Population: 87,941

Already at the end of January, in the midst of a traditionally wet period that usually replenishes reservoirs and groundwater supply, 63.7% of Hanford was experiencing exceptional drought. By the end of July, conditions deteriorated, bringing the average exceptional drought coverage to more than 85% of the region. Now, the risk of crop failure, water shortages and water emergencies is even more widespread. With higher water bills and increased strain on local industries, the impact the drought has had on residents is tangible. Growing unemployment among farm workers, for one, will increase the need for food and financial assistance during drought in the region, according to the Hanford Sentinel.

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1. Bakersfield, Calif.
> Exceptional drought coverage (2014): 89.3%
> Extreme drought coverage (2014): 100%
> Population: 523,994

With nearly 90% of the region engulfed in a state of exceptional drought, Bakersfield’s more than half a million residents are enduring the worst drought conditions among large U.S. urban areas. While the drought has persisted over multiple years, less than 40% of the urban area was enduring extreme drought and none of it was under exceptional drought last year, on average. According to the Bakersfield Californian, area residents were having difficulty curbing their water usage as early as February, with consumption rates increasing in some areas despite worsening drought conditions. At that time, the city seemed optimistic. With its relatively large population, the city has been able to justify shipping in water from other areas. Unlike most other California urban areas, Bakersfield has not imposed rationing or other restrictive policies.