‘Unprecedented’ move: Millions forced to cut water consumption in drought-stricken California

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California’s giant water supplier took the unprecedented step Tuesday, demanding that about 6 million people reduce outdoor watering to one day a week as drought continues to hit the state.

The Southern California Capital Water District Board has declared a water shortage emergency and has required cities and the water agencies it supplies to implement and enforce cuts on June 1 or face hefty fines.

“Right now we don’t have enough water to meet normal demand. There is no water there,” said Rebecca Kimich, a representative of the capital’s water district. “This is unprecedented territory. We’ve never done anything like this before.”

The Metropolitan Water District uses water from the Colorado River and the State Water Project to supply 26 public water utilities that provide water to 19 million people, or 40% of the state’s population.

But record-breaking dry conditions have strained the system, lowering reservoir levels, and the State Water Project, which draws water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, has estimated that it can only provide about 5% of its usual distribution this year. .

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

The Capital Water District said 2020 and 2021 had the lowest rainfall on record for two consecutive years. In addition, Lake Oroville, the main reservoir for the State Water Project, reached its lowest level since filling in the 1970s last year.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked people to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15%, but so far residents have been slow to reach that goal.

Several water management districts have introduced water protection measures. On Tuesday, the East Bay Municipal Utility District board voted to reduce water use by 10% and limit the daily consumption of approximately 1.4 million customers in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, including Oakland and Berkeley.

Households will be allowed to use 1,646 gallons (6,231 liters) per day, well above the average household consumption of about 200 gallons (757 liters) per day, and the agency expects only 1% to 2% of customers to exceed the limit. It is reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Metropolitan Water District’s restrictions apply to areas of Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Bernardino counties that are primarily dependent on public water supplied through the district, including parts of the City of Los Angeles. Mostly urban areas will be affected.

MWD’s water agency clients should either impose a one-day-a-week outdoor water limit or find other ways to reduce water demand equivalently, Kimich said.

While the water agencies are supporting the water conservation movement, it remains to be seen if the public will, Kimich said.

The Metropolitan Water District will monitor water use, she said, and if the restrictions don’t work, it could issue an order to completely ban outdoor watering as early as September.

Meanwhile, state legislators have taken the first step towards lowering the standard for how much water people use in their homes.

The current California standard for residential water use is 55 gallons (208 liters) per person per day. The rule does not apply to customers, which means that regulators do not issue fines to people for using more water than they are allowed to. Instead, the state requires water agencies to meet this standard for all of their clients.

But last week, the State Senate voted overwhelmingly to lower the standard to 47 gallons (178 liters) per person per day starting in 2025 and to 42 gallons (159 liters) per person per day starting in 2030.

The bill has not yet passed the Assembly, which means that there are still several months before it comes into force.

The US west is experiencing a severe drought just a few years after record rains and snowfalls filled reservoirs to capacity. Scientists say this cycle of booms and busts is driven by climate change, which will be accompanied by longer and more severe droughts. A study earlier this year found that the western United States is experiencing a megadrought that is now the driest in at least 1,200 years.

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