Parched southern California takes unprecedented step of restricting outdoor watering | Climate crisis in the American west
Southern California officials declared a water shortage emergency Tuesday, and adopted new unprecedented restrictions on outdoor watering that will affect millions of people living in Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties.
Metropolitan water district of southern California’s resolution will limit outdoor watering to just one day per week for district residents supplied by a stressed system of canals, pipelines, reservoirs and hydroelectric power plants called the State Water Project, which supplies water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland.
The restrictions, which take effect in June, will severely limit how much water people can use to water their lawns or wash cars.
“Due to the depth and duration of the current drought, Metropolitan cannot meet normal demands in the SWP dependent area with existing resources,” officials said in a document outlining the action, which targets “non-essential uses” that tax the declining water supply.
Metropolitan, a water wholesaler, left many of the enforcement details up to member agencies, which act on more of a local level. Cities and water suppliers can opt out of the one-day rule, but must find appropriate solutions to curb water consumption and meet monthly reduced goals. If not, they could face steep fines from the water district.
The move follows a reduction in deliveries from the State Water Project, as California braces for its third devastatingly dry year. With conditions only expected to worsen in the coming hot, dry, summer months, the state is expecting the water supply to be strained further. Following the driest start of the year on record for precipitation, state officials announced last month that they were cutting allocations from 15% to 5%.
Meanwhile, the state’s snowpack – now at just 35% of normal for this time of year – is quickly disappearing. More than 95% of the state is experiencing severe drought according to the US drought monitor.
Warming temperatures have exacerbated the conditions, spurring drying and “shifting the historical relationships between temperature, precipitation, and runoff”, officials said.
“We are seeing conditions unlike anything we have seen before,” Adel Hagekhalil, the district’s general manager, told the Los Angeles Times. “We need serious demand reductions.”
For the first time ever, the water district also asked for more water from the state, relying on a “never-before-invoked-provision” that provides for more than the 5% delivery if needed to supply essential health and human safety needs. The water district also requested additional volumes to prevent or suppress wildfires, and said it will work with member agencies and fire authorities on those deliveries as needed.
But first, restrictions must be in place. The amount of water also must be returned to the system within five years, “thus creating a water supply debt that effectively trims future [allocations] and slows any storage recovery once the drought eases”, officials said.
The water district included some exceptions to their limits on outdoor watering, including what’s needed to ensure trees and other perennials don’t perish before the restrictions are rescinded. Drip irrigation and other high-efficiency systems are also allowed as long as they don’t exceed what would be allotted during a one-day watering from a more wasteful source.
These restrictions may increase if the supply wanes further. “Because of uncertainty in the drought’s persistence and the speed and scale of demand response”, officials said, authorizations are in place to prohibit “all non-essential outdoor irrigation as early as September 1”. The emergency water conservation program will also extend through June of next year unless conditions change enough for the board of directors to lift them.