California drought brings water restrictions to millions

About 6 million people told to cut their outdoor watering to one day a week

A small stream runs through the dried, cracked earth of a former wetland near Tulelake, California. AP
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Southern California's water supplier has taken the unprecedented step of requiring about six million people to cut their outdoor watering to one day a week as an extended drought plagues the state following another dry winter.

The board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California this week declared a water shortage emergency and is requiring certain cities and water agencies it supplies to enact the cutback on June 1. They must enforce it or face hefty fines.

“We don’t have enough water supplies right now to meet normal demand. The water is not there,” district representative Rebecca Kimitch said.

“This is unprecedented territory. We've never done anything like this before."

The Metropolitan Water District restrictions apply to areas of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties that rely mostly on state water supplied through the district, including some parts of the city of Los Angeles. The affected areas are primarily urban.

The goal of the limitation on using water for grassy gardens, plants and things such as cleaning cars is to save water now for indoor use later in the summer when water use increases, said Adel Hagekhalil, the general manager of Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The Metropolitan Water District uses water from the Colorado River and the State Water Project — a vast storage and delivery system — to supply 26 public water agencies that provide water to 19 million people, or 40 per cent of the state's population.

But record dry conditions have strained the system, lowering reservoir levels, and the State Water Project — which gets its water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta — has estimated it will be capable of delivering only about 5 per cent of its usual allocation, for the second consecutive year.

January, February and March of this year were the driest three months in recorded state history in terms of rainfall and snowfall, Ms Kimitch said.

The Metropolitan Water District said that the 2020 and 2021 water years had the least rainfall on record for two consecutive years.

In addition, Lake Oroville, the State Water Project’s main reservoir, reached its lowest point last year since it was filled in the 1970s.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has asked people statewide to voluntarily reduce their water consumption by 15 per cent, but so far residents have been slow to meet that goal.

The western US is in the middle of a severe drought just a few years after record rain and snowfall filled reservoirs to capacity.

Scientists say this boom-and-bust cycle is driven by climate change that will be marked by longer, more severe droughts. A study from earlier this year found the western US was in the middle of a megadrought that has made the region the driest in at least 1,200 years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Updated: April 29, 2022, 6:23 AM