Water Restrictions Ordered Amid Declared Shortage

A big cut in water use is needed to prevent officials from implementing even more stringent measures to mitigate the drought. What to know.

Six million residents in Southern California will face water restrictions next month after water officials declared a severe shortage emergency amid the state's worsening drought.

Residents across dozens of Southland cities will fall under such restrictions as the region continued to experience severely limited water supplies, according to the Metropolitan Water District.

Starting June 1, outdoor watering will be cut to just one day a week, according to water officials. As a result, yellow and brown lawns were expected to be the norm this summer.

Although attempting to use less water in households will help, officials have identified outdoor watering as one of the biggest uses of water contributing to worsening drought conditions.

Residents were urged to make changes to save water, such as removing lawns and replacing them with native plants that require less irrigation.

"We cannot afford green lawns," MWD General Manager Adel Hagekhalil said.

MWD member water agencies that fail to enforce the new rules will face fines of up to $2,000 per acre-foot of water supplied by the MWD that exceeds monthly allocation limits.

Member agencies will also be responsible for determining which days watering will be allowed for their customers. Individual agencies can also opt to meet a reduced limit on the overall amount of water they use instead of enforcing the one-day watering rule. If the agencies exceed the limit, they will face the same fines.

It's an unprecedented move for the Southland's largest water supplier, and it signals a shift to more aggressive conservation measures across Southern California.

Residents have already been advised to refrain from watering their lawns during and 48 hours after rains, not wash sidewalks or driveways, adjust sprinklers to disallow runoff, use a car wash with recycled water, turn off decorative fountains and more, according to Los Angeles County Waterworks Districts.

The average potable water use across the MWD's service area amounts to 125 gallons per day. In comparison, customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power use about 111 gallons per person per day, Ellen Cheng, a spokesperson for the department, told the Los Angeles Times.

Water customers will need to slash water use by 30 percent to make a difference and to combat drought conditions "unlike anything we've experienced before," the MWD said.

"We have to make these finite supplies last the entire year," Hagekhalil said in a statement Tuesday. "If we don't cut back now, we could be limited to providing only enough water to meet health and human safety needs in these communities."

The new rules will affect residents in areas that rely on the State Water Project. Because of the drought, the state has cut water project deliveries to just 5 percent of requested allocations. The State Water Project typically provides 30 percent of the water used in Southern California.

The watering restrictions will take effect June 1. MWD officials warned that if the rules don't result in sufficient water savings, additional restrictions are possible, including a complete ban on "all nonessential outdoor irrigation."

More restrictions could be imposed as early as Sept. 1.

All of the Southland and 92 percent of the state was under severe drought, according to the National Integrated Drought System. Such conditions have the potential to lengthen and intensify the fire season as fuels continue to dry out. Severe drought can also stress trees, trigger plants to increase reproductive mechanisms, and increase diseases among wildlife.

"This is a crisis unlike anything that we've seen before," MWD Executive Officer Deven Upadhyay said. "We really only have a little more than half of the water that we need to be able to make it through the summertime and into the end of the year under normal demands, and that's why normal will not work."

The watering restrictions will also affect at least some customers served by the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, Inland Empire Utilities Agency, Calleguas Municipal Water District, and Three Valleys Municipal Water District.

Gov. Gavin Newsom last month directed the MWD and other water suppliers statewide to ramp up conservation efforts by advancing water-shortage contingency plans.

The MWD offers a rebate of $2 per square foot for people who replace their grass lawns with water-efficient landscaping. Rebates were also available from other local water agencies.

The rebate program helped remove 200 million square feet of grass, which saved enough water to provide about 62,000 homes with water each year, officials said.

During the state's annual April 1 Sierra Nevada snowpack survey, officials found that levels were just 38 percent of average. As of Friday, the state had received 15.63 inches of rain, 75 percent of the historical average, according to California Water Watch.

Coupled with Newsom's January emergency drought declaration, that means another summer of water restrictions.

Despite the healthy amount of snow and rain that fell on Northern California last month, the state remained in a drought.

State emergency regulations directed residents to do the following.

  • Turn off decorative water fountains.
  • Turn off or pause irrigation systems when it's raining and for two days after rain.
  • Use an automatic shut-off nozzle on water hoses.
  • Use a broom, not water, to clean sidewalks and driveways.
  • Give trees just the water they need. Avoid overwatering.
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