California declares drought emergency

As drought drives prices higher, millions of Californians struggle to pay for water

By Laura Ingram and Rachelle Young

This month, California suffered its first round of record-setting drought as a record-breaking heat wave in the Bay Area forced the state on Sunday to declare a drought emergency.

As much as $1 billion in water contracts for agriculture are being called off as conservation measures for farmers slow to take effect.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of the state’s residents face some type of water restriction or warning — meaning that if you are in a drought, you need to act soon, because it could become a state of emergency.

On Wednesday, the state declared a drought emergency for the first time in the state’s history — and the consequences could be devastating.

The drought and associated water restrictions are putting millions of Californians in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar place: paying higher water bills for California’s water services, which cost an average of $1,000 a year.

At the same time, as water becomes more and more scarce, less and more residents are being forced to choose between paying for water or groceries, and electricity and other basic necessities.

“It’s a very difficult thing for a lot of people because you go to the grocery store and they have no water,” said Lorie Knebel, a retiree who lives in Orange County near the Bay Area.

“It’s also a problem in the San Joaquin Valley,” she said, as well as in the Sacramento area, where her daughter lives and works.

Knebel and many others depend on water for everything from driving to getting a haircut. But as demand continues to rise and water supplies dwindle, it is becoming increasingly difficult for many Californians to simply pay the bills.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the owner of California’s water resources, estimated in May that the state’s water use will increase by 40 percent in the long term over the next 40 years unless more water is added from the Sacramento River.

The federal agency says that water demands are projected to increase by 21 percent of total municipal water supplies by 2050.

With those numbers in mind, the California Department of Water Resources estimated that for a family of three in the Sacramento area of the state, the annual water bill would go from $1,700 a year in 2014 to

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