Drought prompts outdoor watering limits, possible fines for 6 million in Southern California

Six agencies within the Metropolitan Water District must reduce usage by 35%

About 6 million people in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Ventura counties must cut water use at least 35% by restricting outdoor watering to one day a week or other means, a hard target that could exact penalties or a total outdoor irrigation ban if not met, Southern California’s largest water wholesaler said Wednesday.

Officials from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California speaking at a Wednesday news conference in downtown Los Angeles stressed that six targeted member agencies heavily dependent on piped-in supplies from Northern California simply do not have enough imported water to meet both indoor and outdoor usage.

The three-year severe drought has nearly eliminated snowpack in the Sierra, cutting allocations from the State Water Project to 5% for two consecutive years, making for an unprecedented crisis particularly for water companies and cities that don’t have enough local groundwater or other sources to make up the shortfall.

The State Water Project supplies about 30% of the water used in Southern California. But in the last three years it has supplied the lowest amounts ever to the region, MWD reported.

The affected agencies include: Calleguas Municipal Water District, Inland Empire Utilities Agency, Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Three Valleys Municipal Water District, and Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District.

The agencies represent one-third of the population of Southern California, largely in the San Fernando Valley, San Gabriel Valley and western San Bernardino County. Each agency will enforce the watering limits. If they fail to reach reductions, they face fines of $2,000 per acre foot of water beyond their limitation or a ban on outdoor watering on Sept. 1.

“This is real. This is serious. This is unprecedented,” said MWD General Manager Adel Hagekhalil. “We are facing a challenge. We do not have the supply to meet the normal demands we have.”

The MWD board acted on Tuesday, imposing the emergency order on the most water-dependent agencies, marking a first for the wholesale water district.

“Metropolitan has never before employed this type of restriction on outdoor water use. But we are facing unprecedented reductions in our Northern California supplies, and we have to respond with unprecedented measures. We’re adapting to climate change in real time,” Hagekhalil said.

 

In Southern California, the average person uses 125 gallons of water per day. Hagekhalil said he would like to see that drop to 80 gallons. That could become mandatory, if summer lawn watering doesn’t drop far enough, he said. Outdoor watering accounts for 70% of water use and the agency is looking to cut that in half in the affected areas.

In an email, LADWP said it had not yet decided whether to go to once-a-week watering or impose other conservation measures and it is working with city officials and MWD to develop emergency drought regulations over the coming weeks.

LADWP said existing conservation has reduced residential water use to 111 gallons per day. It receives between 40% and 60% of its water from the SWP.

At Three Valleys, which serves 13 agencies including the cities of Pomona, Walnut and La Verne, it will go to once-a-week outdoor watering starting June 1. But this restriction is only for the Golden State Water Company’s service to Claremont and La Verne, the two most dependent on imported water from Northern California, said General Manager Matthew Litchfield.

The IEUA, which serves water to seven cities in southwestern San Bernardino County: Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, Upland, Montclair, Ontario, Chino and Chino Hills, will not go to once-a-week watering, said Shivaji Deshmukh, general manager.

Instead, it will ask its retail customers to increase conservation efforts or to shift to local supplies in lieu of state water, he said.

The MWD order also affects large portions of the San Fernando Valley and San Gabriel Valley, both regions with vast aquifers. But many portions of these underground reservoirs are polluted with chemicals that can cause cancer or disease and are off-limits to water suppliers.

This limits uptake from the North Hollywood aquifer and the Main San Gabriel Basin aquifer, said Adan Ortega, who represents the city of San Fernando on the MWD board of directors.

Also, hot spells, the prolonged drought and a dry climate have curtailed storm runoff from reaching spreading basins south of the San Gabriel Mountains.

“In the San Gabriel Valley, the watershed has been so dry that even with record rainfall in December, very little of it made it down to local aquifers,” Ortega said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s drought monitor lists the central portion of California as D3, extreme drought. Ventura, Los Angeles and most of San Bernardino counties are D2, severe drought. Orange, western Riverside and San Diego counties are D1, moderate drought. The scale goes from D0 (abnormally dry) to D4 (exceptional drought).

San Diego built up its supply of water in part through a desalination plant. Orange County’s Poseidon desalination plant is going through the permitting process. San Diego has created a drought buffer with the desalination plant and other local efforts, Ortega said.

The city of San Fernando has a pipeline that brings in water from the Colorado River, which has not been as severely impacted as the State Water Project, and therefore the city is not targeted. However, Ortega believes all areas will soon be affected.

“By September, it could affect everybody,” he said.

 

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