The U.S. Drought Monitor reported this week that the brief rains in central and northern California were not nearly enough to provide relief to three years of extensive dry weather. In fact, the state’s water reservoirs are at critically low levels, and the mild start to the rainy season in the Sierras suggests conditions may not improve this winter.

“The totals still fell short of normal and did nothing to offset the impacts of the ongoing three-year drought,” according to the report released on Thursday. “The current water year has gotten off to an abysmal start.”

Rainfall since Oct. 1, the official start of the “water year,” has totaled only 10 to 35 percent of normal in areas around San Francisco and was categorized by the U.S. Drought Monitor as under “exceptional” drought conditions. Rainfall was at 20 percent of normal in exceptional drought areas around Los Angeles County.

In Tulare County (i.e. Visalia) in the north, officials last week installed free mobile showers at a church in East Porterville. The showers will reportedly serve up to 2,800 residents and were put in place because wells there have simply run dry. Residents have been using buckets of water for bathing, and in some cases people have stopped showering; children have reportedly been using school showers after P.E. classes.

“We want to make sure that the basic needs of those impacted by the drought are being met,” said Tulare County Supervisor Mike Ennis. “Everybody deserves to be able to take a nice hot shower, and that’s what we’re providing.” Residents must bring their own towels and toiletries, and they can also use outdoor sinks that have been set up to allow them to brush their teeth and shave.

In San Diego, the city council took a drastic step last week to provide more potable water for residents. By a 9-0 vote, they agreed to advance $2.5 billion in a plan to recycle wastewater into drinking water. The plan calls for initial production of 15 million gallons a day by 2023, and 83 million gallons daily by 2035. San Diego is the second largest city in the state, and it would join the Orange County Water District as one of the nation’s largest producers of recycled drinking water. Although critics of such measures call the process “toilet-to-tap,” San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said three out of four residents have warmed to the idea.

“The drought puts a finer point on why this is so necessary,” Faulconer explained. “Droughts are unfortunately a way of life in California, so we have to be prepared. This helps us control our own destiny.”

San Diego does not have groundwater basins, so they’ll have to build a special reservoir and send the water there, noted the San Diego County Water Authority.

It still remains rare to turn sewage into drinking water. There are only 10 such treatment facilities nationwide, including those in the Texas cities of El Paso, Wichita Falls and Big Spring, as well as in Fairfax County, Va.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District, serving about 1.8 million people in the San Francisco Bay area, in September began construction of treatment facilities that may serve residents in Sunnyvale and in western Santa Clara County.