California's major water reservoirs are way below where they should be

Key indicators show California's drought appears to be accelerating. That will last until substantial rains come much later in the year. The best advice: Treat water like gold, or it will soon cost as much.

California's biggest reservoirs are way below where their levels should be this time of year. Shasta, the biggest reservoir by far, is only a quarter full. Oroville: less than a quarter full. Trinity, a third full. San Luis Reservoir, 13 paltry percent.

Heather Cooley is a water research expert at the Pacific Institute "This is a tremendously severe drought and it's on the tail of another previously severe drought," said Ms. Cooley. 

California's drought is getting worse and worse, threatening people, farms, businesses, wildlife, plant life, commerce, the environment. everything. "One of the things in particular that I have found surprising how bad things have gotten, how quickly things have gotten this bad," said Cooley.

100% of the state is, at the very least, in moderate drought. 94% of the state is in severe drought, 88% in extreme drought - where water is inadequate for agriculture, wildlife, and urban needs. Almost 50% of the state is in the worst level of all, exceptional drought. Under these conditions, food can't grow, crop yields are low or non-existent, orchards fail and have to be removed, wetlands dry up, tree death accelerates, survival of native plants is low and wildlife dies.

UC Davis Agricultural Economist Professor Daniel Sumner says it's not looking good. "It is dire. I never used the word crisis, so I won't now, but it's damn close," Sumner said. 

Sumner says agriculture has been efficient and resilient in keeping the most profitable crops and leaving lesser crops to others. "We know none of that can continue year after year But, it's sorts of when something hits you scramble and keep it going," said Sumner.

Working with the Oakland-based Pacific Institute, a just-released study shows that we must become far more water efficient than now and conserve more than now, or face releasing even more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 

Why? One-fifth of the state's energy is used is pump, process and treat water for homes, businesses and agriculture. Most of that energy comes from fossil fuels. 

"In the next few years, we're gonna see a significant increase in the amount of natural gas used, the amount of diesel used; we're gonna see greenhouse gases go up significantly," said Noel Perry of the Next 10 Think Tank, which commissioned the Pacific Institute study. 

Significant rains are not expected to arrive until late November or in December.