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Water restrictions lifted in Southern California amid rainy winter

Rules that barred Los Angeles-area residents from watering lawns more than once per week have been lifted

An aerial view of homes in Agoura Hills, Calif., where residents were limited to one day outdoor watering per week last year. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
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California’s wet winter has cloaked the Sierra Nevada mountains in near-record snows, filled up dusty reservoirs, and flooded coastal and inland communities across the state.

Precipitation has been so abundant that Southern California water authorities on Tuesday rescinded emergency restrictions imposed last year on nearly 7 million people that required them to cut back on outdoor watering and to conserve supplies during the historic drought.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California said in a statement Wednesday that the decision by its board of directors reflects improvements in some of the state’s water sources, though “significant challenges remain” on the Colorado River, which supplies about a quarter of Southern California’s water.

The water provider encouraged residents to continue to use water efficiently to “prepare for potential steep cuts to supplies from the Colorado River.”

“Southern California remains in a water supply deficit,” Tracy Quinn, a member of the board of directors, said in the statement. “The more efficiently we all use water today, the more we can keep in storage for a future dry year.”

The water restrictions imposed last June came during the third consecutive year of extreme drought in the state. They required water agencies in parts of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties to limit outdoor watering to one day per week and to keep usage within certain thresholds. Some jurisdictions imposed steep fines on those who didn’t follow the rules and deployed water monitors to search subdivisions for runaway trickles and excessive sprinklers.

“The amount of water we’re getting is just unbelievable,” said Mike McNutt, a spokesman of the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District in Southern California. “It’s total whiplash.”

The Las Virgenes district enforced last year’s water restrictions energetically, installing water-flow restricting devices on a couple hundred homes that repeatedly failed to stay within their water budgets and calling on residents in the affluent hills north of Los Angeles to conserve. The district ultimately exceeded water conservation goals last year and used less than half as much water in December 2022 than it had in December 2020, McNutt said.

He said he hoped that the spirit of thrifty water use — and moving away from thirsty lawns — continues.

“That drought mentality needs to move forward even though we may not be in a drought now,” he said.

The restrictions last summer focused on communities whose water came from the California State Water Project, which brings water through reservoirs and canals from the northern part of the state to the south. At the time, agencies that relied on the State Water Project were only getting 5 percent of their allocations. After the abundant rains this winter, that number has risen to 35 percent.

California reservoirs have risen dramatically this winter. The state’s two largest reservoirs, Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville, were at critically low levels last summer. They are now close to or above their historic averages and in the past week, California officials released water from Lake Oroville for the first time in four years.

Recent rains also prompted a levee failure on the Pajaro River in Monterey County, which submerged the farmworker town of Pajaro. In other areas, there were debris flows and evacuation orders amid rising water levels after the 11th atmospheric river since December.