California just adopted new water restrictions: What you need to know

California’s water regulators stepped up state drought regulations this week, asking local suppliers to take steps to reduce water use to extend limited supplies into this summer. Governor Gavin Newsom warned that stricter statewide water restrictions could follow if the state doesn’t make more progress on conservation soon.

Acting on Newsom’s orders, the State’s Water Resources Control Board voted to pass emergency drought regulations requiring water suppliers to activate their local drought plans to prepare suffer from a shortage of up to 20%. Those water-saving measures vary by region and are based on the drought plan of each city or water authority.

As part of the new regulations, the state also prohibits the ornamental use of potable water at properties and in common areas of subdivisions and homeowners associations.

Here’s a breakdown of what’s going on:

What are the latest changes?

  • Regulations prohibit the use of “non-functional” potable water in commercial, industrial and institutional settings.
  • The regulations define “non-functional” grass as grass that is “for ornamental purposes only” and is not routinely used for recreational purposes or community events.
  • Areas irrigated with recycled wastewater are not prohibited from watering the lawn.
  • The ban does not apply to private yards.
  • There are also exemptions for sports fields, lawns where people gather, and watering to keep plants healthy.
  • The rules require local water providers statewide to activate “Level 2” of their local contingency plans to prepare for shortages of up to 20%.
  • Regulations require each municipal water supplier to submit an annual water supply and demand assessment. Each agency that has submitted a shortfall contingency plan should take steps to reduce water use to prepare for a 10% to 20% shortfall. Water agencies that do not have a contingency plan in place must take similar steps, including organizing a conservation-focused public information campaign and enforcing a two-day restriction on outdoor watering. a week, with limited hours before 10 a.m. or after 6 a.m. afternoon

What is the big picture?

The severe drought, now in its third year in California, is one of the most severe on record and is made worse by hotter temperatures and global warming.

Across the American West, scientists have found that the extreme dry spell since 2000 has become the driest 22-year period in at least 1,200 years, a super-drought that the study found. shown to be increasing by climate change. Scientists have described this trend as aridity, saying that the West must prepare for further heat drying as temperatures rise with the burning of fossil fuels and increasing levels of warming. increase in greenhouse gases.

Even as the drought worsens, conservation efforts have slowed in California’s cities and towns.

In July, Newsom urged Californians to voluntarily cut their water use by 15%. But the amount of water saved so far in March was 3.7% less than baseline 2020. Water use in cities and towns increased by nearly 19% in March, a particularly warm month. and drought.

For part of the 2012-16 drought, then-Government. Jerry Brown has ordered a mandatory 25% reduction in urban water use. Many Californians have responded by mowing and taking steps like converting lawns to drought-resistant crops.

At a meeting with officials from major water districts this week, Newsom called for stronger steps to reduce water use. Several people who attended the meeting said Newsom called the recent increase in water use a “black eye”.

The governor warned that if conservation efforts do not improve over the next two months, his administration could be forced to impose mandatory statewide water restrictions.

What about agriculture?

While the new measures focus on improving conservation in urban areas, drought is also affecting agriculture and food production. Many growers have seen their water supply drastically cut, and have turned to pumping more groundwater or leaving some of the arable land arid and uncultivable.

Of the water diverted and pumped in California, state data shows an average of about 80% is used for agriculture while the remaining 20% ​​is used for cities and towns.

In a recent report from the California Department of Agriculture and Food, researchers calculated that reduced water supplies resulted in 395,000 acres of cropland becoming dry and uncultivable last year — a large acreage. than Los Angeles.

What’s next for Southern California?

The Metropolitan Water District in April declared a water emergency and ordered outdoor watering restrictions in parts of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties that rely on the State Water Project, which transports water south from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The water restrictions will go into effect June 1 and aim to reduce water use by around 35%.

Officials say that’s the number needed to preserve essential supplies – and prevent an outright ban on outdoor watering as soon as September.

Southern California communities that depend on the State Water Project’s water supplies from Northern California typically request about 380,000 acres of water between June and December. But supplies are expected in the second half of the year to be small. much more – just 250,000 acres. Faced with the real danger of supply dwindling, MWD managers say an immediate cut will help prolong inventories.

Other tricks?

State officials have shared various tips on how people can help save water at home:

  • Limit outdoor watering. Reducing one day a week can save a lot of money.
  • Shower in less time. Taking a shower for 5 minutes can help reduce water usage.
  • Take a shower instead of a bath. A bathtub uses 2.5 times more water than a shower.
  • Using a broom instead of a hose to clean outdoor areas can save about 6 gallons of water per minute.
  • Washing all clothes saves water. California just adopted new water restrictions: What you need to know

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