S. E. Williams |
Limited rain and snowfall resulted in January, February and March 2022 being the driest three months in California’s recorded history as it relates to rain- and snowfall according to Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California spokesperson Rebecca Kimitch.
In response, on Wednesday, April 27, MWD announced plans to cut outdoor watering to one day a week for six million Southern California residents beginning June 1 —including many in the inland region. The goal is to immediately reduce water use in communities with supplies severely limited by the state’s drought.
The unprecedented action—expected to impact nearly a third of SoCal residents—was unanimously adopted by MWD’s Board of Directors during a special meeting on Tuesday, April 26 and will apply to dozens of cities and communities in San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Ventura counties – home to about 6 million residents.
While most of the SoCal region benefits from diverse water supplies, the communities impacted by newly implemented restrictions depend on water from Northern California, via the State Water Project. These areas have limited or no access to water from the Colorado River or local resources, and with deliveries from the State Water Project severely reduced over the last three years because of drought, they are expected to face water shortages this year.
The board’s action last week also came with a warning that “if enough water isn’t conserved in the coming months, or if supply conditions worsen, all outdoor watering could be banned in these communities as early as September,” cautioned Metropolitan General Manager Adel Hagekhalil.
In a press release Hagekhalil continued with these ominous words, “The reality is, this drought has left us without the water supply we need to meet normal demands in these areas. To make sure we have enough water for their basic human health and safety needs, everyone in these communities must immediately and dramatically reduce their water use.”
Local agencies have flexibility
MWD will not directly impose the restrictions on consumers, but rather require its member agencies that are receiving State Water Project supplies like the Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA/Agency), to enforce the watering limits. Specifics on which day of the week watering will be allowed and enforcement protocols will be determined by each member agency.
Inland area communities impacted by the outdoor watering restriction include the cities of Chino, Chino Hills, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, Rialto and Upland. Although the order establishes a strict protocol it does allow for the hand watering of trees to maintain the natural urban canopy.
There are options
Water agencies in these areas also have the option of selecting an alternative path that sets limits on the amount of water used. Agencies that don’t enforce the one-day-a-week watering restrictions or exceed their volumetric limits, however, would face financial penalties from MWD.
In response, IEUA/Agency General Manager Shivaji Deshmukh noted in a statement, “MWD’s new Emergency Water Conservation Program includes two pathways. The second pathway is the framework in which IEUA will be following, allowing the Agency to comply with monthly allocation limits based on remaining MWD storage, drought actions, and Human Health and Safety water provided by the Department of Water Resources (DWR).”
According to Deshmukh, this pathway will result in real water savings for the region and also align with MWD’s goal for all Southern California residents and businesses to save 30 percent and stretch resources to prevent additional restrictions or cutbacks this year.
“We support this framework which can be measured, quantified, and monitored, ” he advised. “The time is now to take action and IEUA appreciates the collaboration between its customer agencies to ensure that the urgency of this situation is conveyed in a unified and impactful manner.”
“We recognize that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is not feasible and IEUA will rely on and support the efforts of our customer agencies to implement messaging and water saving initiatives that promote conservation in a way that resonates the most in their region,” stressed Deshmukh.
Seeking a sustainable way forward
Historically the State Water Project, on average, has supplied at least 30 percent of the water used in Southern California. However, three consecutive years of severely dry climate has resulted in the lowest water deliveries ever.
Last November, MWD declared a drought emergency for the State Water Project dependent communities. Since then, however, conditions have only worsened.
Also last year, MWD began working with the impacted agencies to provide new access to Colorado River water or other supplies and it continues to explore additional engineering and infrastructure improvements to maximize the resiliency and flexibility of the region’s water-delivery system. MWD is also investing in drought-proof, climate change-resilient water supplies, such as recycled water.
MWD noted that while the current emergency is particularly acute in the communities that depend on the State Water Project, all Southern Californians are responding to Governor Newsom’s March order to conserve water use by 20-30 percent.
“We’re doing everything we can to alleviate the immediate crisis and make investments to avoid this from happening again,” explained MWD Chairwoman Gloria D. Gray. “But now we need the public’s help. We can get through this by working together.”Those served by IEUA can learn about other steps being taken by the agency in response to climate impacts by following this link to the agency’s website.