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California is at a “tipping point,” say leading climatologists, as a historic drought enters its fourth year with no end in sight.

The numbers are both informative and scary: For the first time in 15 years, the entire state finds itself under drought conditions; and our last official “rain year” in Southern California was one of the driest in 500 years, based on an analysis of tree rings. It’s “very unusual” to have these extremely dry years, says Lynn Ingram, professor of Earth and Planetary Science at UC Berkeley.

The average household goes through 150 gallons of water per person each and every day, with about half of that being used just to keep lawns green. That is why it is now a criminal offense, subject to a fine up to $500 a day, for wasting water in the state.

Although California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency, it is proving difficult to convince coastal urban water users that this drought is not only very real but also very different from previous ones in recent memory. Water usage in these areas has actually risen, according to state officials charged with monitoring our dwindling water supply.

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