Apr 27, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Southern California restricts outdoor watering in emergency declaration

 Ducks roam the infield as a sprinkler waters a baseball field in Alhambra, California on September 23.

A sprinkler waters a baseball field in Alhambra, Calif. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Southern California officials on Tuesday declared a water shortage emergency for the first time ever and imposed unprecedented outdoor water usage restrictions on the region's roughly 6 million residents due to the ongoing drought.

Driving the news: After California recorded its driest start to the year on record, residents in parts of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties will be required to restrict outdoor watering to one day a week, per a statement from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), the largest supplier of treated water in the U.S.

  • A third of the state's south, including those three counties, "faces an emergency because of reliance on severely limited" supplies from Northern California, according to the MWD.
  • "The past three years are projected to be the driest in our state's history, leading to drought conditions unlike anything we've experienced before," the MWD noted.

Meanwhile, "California's warming climate is shifting the historical relationships between temperature, precipitatio, and runoff," the MWD said.

  • In 2021, the California Department of Water Resources' (DWR) snowmelt runoff forecast overestimated actual runoff by 68%. In 2022, the runoff forecast has already dropped by 42%, per the MWD.

By the numbers: Over 95% of California is experiencing severe drought, according to the U.S. drought monitor.

What they're saying: "As a result of record drought and limited State Water Project (SWP) allocations, insufficient supply exists this year to meet normal" demand, per a document outlining the MWD's action.

  • "Due to the "depth and duration" of the drought, the MWD "cannot meet normal demands in the SWP dependent area with existing resources," the document noted.
  • The goal is to "preserve existing water supplies" and "reduce or eliminate non-essential" uses, such as "water for outdoor landscapes, filling swimming pools or fountains or washing cars," according to the MWD.

Context: Studies show the increasingly severe drought in the West is a sign of how climate change has already tilted the odds in favor of such extremes, Axios' Andrew Freedman writes.

  • The combination of heat and drought can trigger wildfires. The MWD notes in its situation report that it has asked the state for more water in a "never-before-invoked-provision" in order to "meet minimum demands for domestic supply, fire protection, or sanitation."

Between the lines: Local member agencies will be responsible for enforcement of the measures and authorities can "opt out of the one-day rule, but must find appropriate solutions to curb water consumption and meet monthly reduced goals," per the Guardian.

  • If they fail to do so, they could face hefty fines from the water district.

For the record: Some Southern California water suppliers have already begun implementing restrictions — including in western L.A. County, where the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District has halved customers' water budgets and issued fines for violations, the Los Angeles Times notes.

What's next: The outdoor watering restrictions in areas that depend on water from the drought-hit State Water Project will begin on June 1.

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