Southern California declares unprecedented water shortage emergency

An unprecedented water shortage emergency has been declared in Southern California.

The affected areas include parts of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties which are home to around 6 million people.

Officials made the announcement on Tuesday that, from 1 June, outdoor watering would be restricted to one day a week in areas dependent on a network of aqueducts known as the State Water Project.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) has also asked residents to voluntarily cut water use across the region.

“We’re requiring these areas to cut back outdoor watering to 1 day a week, but need all #SoCal residents + businesses to save up to 30%,” the water services company tweeted.

“Due to the depth and duration of the current drought,” MWD wrote, the agency “cannot meet normal demands” in areas that depend on water from the State Water Project.

MWD said that they will impose fines on any local water departments that exceed water usage limits under these rules.

Some small exceptions are allowed such as for high-efficiency irrigation systems like drip irrigation – where water slowly drips from a porous hose instead of flowing out of a tap – and hand-watering, which is necessary to the long-term health of trees and seedlings.

With watering of lawns cut back to one day a week, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is offering a rebate program for residents and commercial property owners to replace turf lawns with water retention features and drought-resistant plants more suited to the semi-arid climate.

California has been in a sustained drought for the past three years, ravaging the state’s water supply system. Over 95 per cent of the state is currently in “severe drought” conditions, according to the federal government’s drought monitor.

Drought conditions for California for the week of 19 April

(NOAA/NIDIS)

In the emergency declaration, MWD referenced the role of the climate crisis in driving water uncertainty.

“In addition to reduced precipitation since 2020, California’s climate is transitioning to a warmer setting in which historical relationships among temperature, precipitation, and run-off are changing,” MWD wrote.

Much of California’s water comes from snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Earlier this month, LADWP warned that snowpack was less than a quarter of normal levels, and called on Californians to voluntarily cut water use.

The California Department of Water Resources has warned that the snowpack in the Sierra is expected to decline by up to 65 per cent by the end of the century.

In addition, a 2015 study found that the climate crisis will likely increase the probability that dry years coincide with warm years in California – fueling the perfect conditions for serious drought conditions.

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