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SALT LAKE CITY — The first water supply forecast of the new year portends ugly news for states in the West as abnormally dry conditions continue to grip the region and drought intensifies.
In California, where residents in some areas are already on water restrictions, groups took to the halls of the Legislature on Thursday to put political pressure on their lawmakers for some kind of fix, and to bring attention to the drought crisis.
While there are still a few months left to pack snow in the higher elevations, many small reservoirs are already being tested in the state because they are part of small systems that do not have carry-over storage.
The center released updated water precipitation totals that were in the 15 percent to 25 percent of normal range in the Salmon Mountains of northwest California, and the area is enduring record warm temperatures.
The abnormally dry start to the year for California follows the state's driest year on record in 2013 and is already kicking up devastating impacts for the state.
The drought and the Santa Ana winds have combined to fuel raging wildfires that have forced thousands to flee their communities, and Thursday's drought outlook shows the majority of the state suffering from extreme conditions. Multiple ski resorts have had to shut down in the Sierras and Truckee, Calif., one of the snowiest cities in the country, has only scattered patches of snow.
On Friday, the worsening situation prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency.
And despite some precipitation that has occurred in Oregon and Washington, classifications of areas under "severe" drought expanded northward into the region.
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service's National Water and Climate Center looked at snowpack in 13 Western states to help farmers, ranchers and water supply managers prepare for conditions ahead.
"Right now the West Coast is all red," the center's hydrologist, Tom Perkins, said. "Early indications are it will be very dry in the western part of the West, but wetter as you travel east. There are some exceptions to this, as New Mexico, Arizona, parts of Utah and southern Colorado are also expected to be dry."
While snow remains in the ground and the mountains of northern Utah in many places, the U.S. Drought Monitor indicates the state remains in severe drought, drought or abnormally dry conditions.
The latest Natural Resources Conservation Service water outlook for the state put Utah's snowpack at below average, with reservoir storage about half full.
Although the stream flow forecasts do not predict drought, they provide information about future water supply in states where snowmelt accounts for the majority of seasonal runoff.