Southern California reacts to new drought restrictions

Millions of Southern Californians are struggling with less water and more brown lawns as drought and climate change leave large swaths of the region increasingly water-deprived.

In a remarkable sign of the severity of the drought, Metropolitan Water County officials in Southern California announced the first action to limit outdoor water use to one day a week for nearly 6 million residents. people.

Much remains to be determined about how day-to-day life will change as people adapt to drier-than-normal conditions. However, officials warn the situation is dire and could lead to more severe limits later this year.

MWD General Manager Adel Hagekhalil said: “We don’t have the supplies to meet the usual needs we have, and now we need to prioritize between watering our lawns. and have water for our children and grandchildren and livelihoods and health.” “With historic droughts getting worse and worse, we can’t get green lawns.”

For some Californians, the sight of brown lawns could return to a previous, then-Gov drought. Jerry Brown has imposed mandatory water cuts across the state. But after the driest start to date in California history, conditions today are much more severe than they were in the past, officials said.

“We knew climate change would put a strain on our water supply and we were prepared for it, but we didn’t know that,” said Gloria Gray, MWD’s board chair. it’s going to happen just as quickly,” said Gloria Gray, MWD’s chairman of the board. “This means we’re trying to adapt to climate change in real time, and that’s not easy. It is a challenge unlike anything Metropolitan has ever faced.”

The new restrictions will go into effect June 1 and apply to areas that depend on water from the State Water Project, including counties northwest of LA and Ventura, and parts of the San Gabriel Valley. and parts of the Inland Empire.

Officials said the step became inevitable after California experienced its driest periods ever in January, February and March. That caused the snow cover to shrink and reservoirs to dry up, prompting state water officials in March to cut the project’s projected delivery from an already low 15% to 5. %.

Now, MWD member agencies will determine how to implement the restrictions, officials said. Unsuccessful suppliers will be fined up to $2,000 for each additional acre used.

If major improvements are not immediate and obvious, a total outdoor watering ban could happen as soon as September, Hagekhalil said.

“We are behind in terms of rainfall. But it’s climate change that we can’t rely on anymore,” he said. “This is real. This is serious. This is unprecedented.”

Last month, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an order to scale up urban conservation and propose a ban on ornamental lawn irrigation at businesses and public properties, among other measures. The order follows reports that Californians are slipping in efforts to conserve water and have in fact increased their use of water earlier this year.

A woman wades down her driveway in Monterey Park

A woman walks down her driveway in Monterey Park Wednesday.

(Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Newsom’s office said in a statement that the MWD action was a great example of local outcry, and “we hope these efforts will contribute significantly to the overall water reduction goal.” state because outdoor watering is one of the largest users of water. ”

But for some residents, the move could be a stark wake-up call to the reality of a worsening drought.

In Windsor Square on Wednesday, many of the homes sat behind large privacy hedges, their front yards filled with lavender, jasmine and dense bitter willow.

Scott Rosenbaum, who walks his two golden retrievers in the area, says his lawn is currently being watered about three times a week. He said he doesn’t want to be restricted to watering once a week, “but if we have to conserve water, then of course we have to save.”

John Eisendrath, who lives a few blocks away, said he and his wife have been considering water conservation measures for a long time. They turned off the sprinklers in their yard throughout 2021 to save water, resulting in the lawn dying. They replanted it in early 2022, but it will be fine if it dies again because of the new restrictions.

“I think it’s a very small price to pay for allowing enough water for what people really need,” he said.

According to spokesman Mike McNutt, the Las Virgenes City Water District, an MWD member agency that provides water to more than 75,000 residents in Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Hidden Hills and Westlake Village, plans to enforce the regulations. new.

The agency plans to split watering days between even- and odd-numbered addresses, and then send force patrols through the area to make sure people are complying, McNutt said. They will also watch for waste, such as water entering the gutter.

Residents who fail to comply will be warned with a door card for their first offense, and the penalties will increase from there, he said. After three violations that exceed 150% of the water budget, the agency will be able to install flow-restricting devices.

“It has no meaning of punishment. McNutt said.

MWD’s largest member body, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Electricity, has so far not provided some details on how it plans to apply the latest changes.

DWP spokeswoman Ellen Cheng said the agency has been in place of Phase 2 water restrictions since before the previous drought, and noted that clients have made great progress in conservation, averaging about 111 gallons per person per day.

But experts say that number may be too much. Hagekhlalil, of MWD, says the goal should be closer to 80 gallons per person per day.

“We asked them to reduce their water use by 35%. This is the new reality. This is climate change,” said Hagekhalil. “Right now, we must conserve available water for the greater public good. This drought has left us without enough water. That is the difficult reality we all have to face.”

Some water experts have been saying for months that California should move to mandatory water restrictions, rather than calling for voluntary conservation.

“Outdoor water restrictions underline the severity of the drought, and they underscore the urgency,” said Heather Cooley, research director for the Pacific Institute, a water research organization in Oakland. must use water more efficiently”. “Limiting outdoor water has proven to be an effective strategy for rapidly reducing water use. I suspect more communities will adopt these measures as the situation worsens. “

In this situation, Cooley says, it is especially important to consider how drought-tolerant and low-water plants can dramatically promote conservation.

“While this is a short-term drought response, it is also an opportunity to eliminate water-intensive lawns and plant more climate-appropriate crops,” she said.

Stephanie Pincetl, a professor at UCLA’s Institute for Environment and Sustainability, agrees.

“The lawns do well with about 30 inches of rain per year. Do we get 30 inches of rain a year? I don’t think so,” Pincetl said. Los Angeles gets about half that amount in a typical year.

“So if you want water to drink, water to do all the things you do inside, shower your kids, do laundry, use water on the lawn just seems stupid,” Pincetl said.

However, there are exceptions to the new rules, which are intended to protect the area’s trees, provide valuable shade and help prevent the dangerous health effects of heat.

Deven Upadhyay, chief executive officer of MWD, said: “The reality is that we don’t want to see our beautiful and ecologically important trees affected because of these constraints. “People can continue to water the plants by hand. But we need to see a significant reduction in water use, specifically outdoor water use.”

Dan Drugan, resource manager for the Calleguas City Water District, a member agency of MWD, shares similar sentiments.

“We will have to sacrifice grass to preserve the urban canopy and areas of high recreational value for our community,” he said.

Larchmont resident Guin Malley says her sprinklers currently run nightly apart, but her lawn definitely wouldn’t survive if she switched to once-weekly watering, especially during the hot summer months. It’s no surprise, however, that she’s limited her watering again.

Malley, 51, said: “I love having green lawns, but I think we are entering another period of our lives where, unfortunately, we haven’t made easy changes. ,” and now we’re going to have to make more difficult changes. And one of them is that there can’t be beautiful green lawns and green lawns.”

She and her boyfriend also have some plants that they manually water every day during the summer. Malley said she believes people in the neighborhood are likely to follow the restrictions, especially if they are fined.

And it won’t be difficult to see who is following the rules.

“For me, anyone watching it is going to have a dead lawn, that’s how you can tell,” Malley said. Southern California reacts to new drought restrictions

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