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In worsening drought, Southern California water restrictions take effect

Outdoor water use limited to one day per week in parts of the Los Angeles area

People gather at the Castaic Lake reservoir in Los Angeles County on May 3, 2022. The reservoir, part of the State Water Project, is currently at 52 percent capacity, below the historic average of 60 percent. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The forecast for Southern California grass is yellow and brown from here on out.

On Wednesday, new restrictions on outdoor water use went into effect for more than 6 million residents in the Los Angeles area. The rules, set by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, limit outdoor watering to one day per week in many jurisdictions — while others opted to stay below a volume limit — as authorities try to dramatically reduce urban water use amid the record-breaking drought fueled by the warming climate.

The goal is to cut water use by 35 percent as California is in its third consecutive year of severe drought, there is measly snowpack in the mountains and reservoirs have dwindled to record lows. Water authorities have described the situation as an emergency requiring more severe restrictions than in the past — but they also warn they might be just a prelude to further cuts. If conditions don’t improve by September, Metropolitan Water District officials have warned they might ban outdoor water use entirely.

Since the new rules were announced in April, the drought in the West has not let up. The most recent data from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that 76 percent of the American West is experiencing severe to exceptional drought, an area home to some 55 million people. Major reservoirs along the Colorado River — such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell — are down to their lowest levels in decades.

Current Southwest drought the most extreme in 1,200 years, study finds

The California Department of Water Resources said last week that the three months between February and April were one of the driest such periods in 122 years.

Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) warned that mandatory water restrictions might be imposed throughout the state. Almost a year before, he had called on residents to voluntarily reduce water use by 15 percent. But that has not happened.

“Every water agency across the state needs to take more aggressive actions to communicate about the drought emergency and implement conservation measures,” Newsom said in a recent statement. “Californians made significant changes since the last drought but we have seen an uptick in water use, especially as we enter the summer months. We all have to be more thoughtful about how to make every drop count.”

California water authorities also last week adopted emergency rules outlawing the use of drinking water to irrigate “nonfunctional” grass, such as decorative strips outside businesses and in residential developments.

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