Facing the “new reality” of extreme drought conditions caused by a “changing climate,” Southern California officials are demanding businesses and residents in parts of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties cut outdoor watering to one day a week.
“This is a crisis. This is unprecedented. We have never done anything like this before and because we haven’t seen this situation happen like this before, we don’t have enough water to meet normal demands for the six million people living in the State Water Project dependent areas,” said Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, noting that conservation needs to begin in earnest now since water usage typically increases during the summer months.
Metropolitan is calling on residents in its region to cut their water consumption by 35% to avoid a full ban on watering later in the summer.
“It takes 50% to 70% of (residents’) water consumption, Hagekhalil said of outdoor watering, adding, “We are asking people to reduce that water almost by half, if not more.”
Extremely dry conditions led the State Water Project to “dramatically reduce” the amount of water Metropolitan receives from the northern Sierra mountains by two-thirds, Hagekhalil said.
To this point, Metropolitan executive officer and assistant general manager Deven Upadhyay said the Department of Water Resources reduced its State Water Project allocation to just 5% of what it would normally receive for the second year in a row.
“This latest low allocation is coming in the third year of a drought and doesn’t provide enough water to meet the minimum human safety and health needs that we would need in the State Water Project dependent areas,” said Upadhyay.
The move comes as California faces persistent climate crisis-fueled dry conditions that have led to major water shortages, despite record snow in early winter.
Last summer, the state saw its most severe drought in its 126-year record.
The new restrictions must be implemented by June 1, with water district member agencies expected to enforce them, said Rebecca Kimitch, program manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Some 6 million people live in the affected areas and rely on water piped down from Northern California.
“If we don’t do the actions that we need today to stretch our water…the Metropolitan board has given me the authority to ban all watering as soon as September first,” Hagekhalil said.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power – which has had watering restrictions for more than a decade – will work with water district and city officials as the emergency drought regulations are finalized, it said, adding residential water use in its zone is already 111 gallons per day, among the lowest in the region.
“Additional water use restrictions should be balanced against the high level of conservation that has already been achieved by … customers. Conserving water must be accomplished region wide,” the agency told CNN in a statement.
Indeed, the issue goes beyond California.
The federal government in August declared its first water shortage on the Colorado River, leading to mandatory water cuts for states in the Southwest.
Snowpack suffers severe decline
While parts of California got record snow late last year, it wasn’t enough to alleviate the dire drought conditions.
About 17 feet of snow fell in December at Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Laboratory at the University of California, making it the snowiest December on record there and the third-snowiest month overall, those scientists said.
But precipitation declined after that, with the January-March period the driest “by a huge margin” in 101 years of record-keeping at three key observing stations in California, the National Weather Service reported.
That decrease has been showing up in a decline of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, which was just 38% of normal this winter.
Snow usually builds up in the Sierra Nevada throughout the winter, storing water that later melts and flows into reservoirs in the spring. Snowpack provides 30% of California’s water, according to the state Department of Water Resources.
South of Lake Tahoe, at Phillips Station, snow depth was 2.5 inches on April 1, compared with that day’s average depth there of 66.5 inches, official said. That meager snow depth amounts to 1 inch of water content – a mere 4% of average for April 1, said Sean de Guzman, an engineer with the department.
CNN’s Rachel Ramirez contributed to this report.