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California cracks down on water use as it sees its most severe drought ever

A small stream runs through the dried, cracked earth of a former wetland near Tulelake, Calif., on June 9, 2021. Southern California's gigantic water supplier has taken the unprecedented step of requiring some 6 million people to cut their outdoor watering to one day a week as drought continues to plague the state.
Nathan Howard
/
AP
A small stream runs through the dried, cracked earth of a former wetland near Tulelake, Calif., on June 9, 2021. Southern California's gigantic water supplier has taken the unprecedented step of requiring some 6 million people to cut their outdoor watering to one day a week as drought continues to plague the state.

Water restrictions began Wednesday for 6 million residents in Southern California, as the state enters its third year of severe drought and what water officials say is the state's driest year on record.

Residents and businesses must limit their outdoor watering to one or two days per week or to a set volume of water, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California announced.

"People need to take these restrictions seriously," MWD General Manager Adel Hagekhalil said. "So we must do everything we can to lower our use and stretch this limited supply. If residents and businesses don't respond immediately, we'll have to take even stronger action."

MWD is a water wholesaler that provides water to member agencies, such as the cities of Beverly Hills, Compton, and Los Angeles.

The member agencies impacted by Wednesday's decision include Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, Inland Empire Utilities Agency, Calleguas Municipal Water District, Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, Three Valleys Municipal Water District

Member agencies had the option to choose between an outdoor watering limit of one day per week or by volume of water used.

Calleguas, Las Virgenes and Three Valleys will limit outdoor watering to one-day a week, while Inland will choose a volume limit.

The Upper San Gabriel and Los Angeles water departments will limit outdoor watering to two days a week, as doing so will still fall under their volume limits.

Exceptions to the outdoor watering rules include the hand-watering of trees and other perennials.

Member agencies who violate these restrictions will be fined $2,000 per acre-foot of water used over the limit.

The restrictions, part of the Emergency Water Conservation Program, are supposed to "reduce non-essential water use and preserve available supply for the greatest public benefit," MWD said.

The program will end on June 30, 2023.

About 27 million Californians get their water from the State Water Project, "a multi-purpose water storage and delivery system that extends more than 705 miles — two-thirds the length of California," according to the California Department of Water Resources.

MWD has made an effort to switch its member agencies to getting their water from the SWP network to the Colorado River or groundwater. However, the departments impacted by Wednesday's rules still must rely on SWP as a resource to meet demand.

Though, many of the state's largest water resources have been depleted by the persistent drought.

Watersheds have been getting below-average precipitation since October 2019, and "despite substantial precipitation in October and December 2021, precipitation in Northern California from January through March 2022 fell to the driest levels on record," MWD wrote in April.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayana Archie