The entire state is now classified as being in some stage of drought, ranging from "exceptional" -- the worst level -- in the western mountains to "moderate" along the coast.
Drought conditions in the Triangle and other parts of central North Carolina continue to be considered "severe," according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which issued its newest map Thursday.
Gov. Mike Easley directed state agencies in all counties to stop nonessential use of water. He also urged all residents to cut water consumption by 20 percent.
"Stream flows and groundwater levels are approaching their lowest levels in recorded history, and many of our reservoirs are declining by one foot every 10 days," Easley said in a statement released Thursday. "We all must conserve if we are to, in any way, minimize the impact of the drought."
The area of "extreme drought," the second-driest category, now covers 28 counties and has reached Charlotte.
Swimming areas at two state parks will be closed beginning today because water levels are so far below normal, state officials said. The swimming beaches at Lake Norman and Lake James are the only public swimming areas on the seven Catawba River basin lakes. Lake James park is near Nebo, about 45 miles east of Asheville, and Lake Norman park another 65 miles to the east, south of Statesville.
The Hidden Cove boating access area at Lake James is also closed, according to an announcement from the state Division of Parks and Recreation.
State officials said earlier that the drought probably would not end soon, barring an immediate and widespread deluge. At Raleigh-Durham International Airport, rainfall totaled a half-inch Thursday, not enough for major improvement.
Statewide, 59 of North Carolina's 597 public water systems were calling for voluntary water restrictions, and 21 have imposed mandatory restrictions.
Parts of the state have received only 25 percent of their usual rainfall, and forecasters don't expect significant rain next week, according to the governor's office.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)