Lawn sprinklers
Sprinklers watering a Southern California lawn. Courtesy Metropolitan Water District

One day after approving a restriction that will limit outdoor watering to once a week for millions of Southern California residents and businesses, leaders of the region’s largest water wholesaler said Wednesday they needed to take unprecedented steps to respond to the record drought.

“The reality is, this drought has left us without the water supply we need to meet normal demands in these areas,” Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said in a statement. “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.”

The agency noted that the first three months of the year in California were the driest in recorded history, even though that is the time when the state typically receives nearly half of its precipitation.

The watering restriction approved by the MWD board Tuesday will impact roughly 6 million people in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Ventura counties. The MWD is the supplier for water agencies throughout Southern California, but the restriction will apply to those that are heavily dependent on State Water Project deliveries.

Due to the drought, the state has slashed SWP deliveries to just 5% of requested allocations. MWD officials said the State Water Project typically provides 30% of the water used in Southern California.

According to the MWD, the watering restriction will affect at least some customers served by the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, Inland Empire Utilities Agency, Calleguas Municipal Water District and Three Valleys Municipal Water District.

Not all customers of all of those agencies will be impacted. A map provided by the MWD indicates the watering restrictions will affect parts of the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys, and the western reaches of the county including Woodland Hills, Canoga Park, and Calabasas, coastal areas of West Los Angeles, and parts of Hollywood.

“Metropolitan has never before employed this type of restriction on outdoor water use,” Hagekhalil said. “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.”

The MWD urged all Southern California residents and businesses to slash water use by 30% to combat drought conditions “unlike anything we’ve experienced before.”

The watering restrictions will take effect on June 1.

MWD member water agencies that fail to enforce the requirement among its customers will face fines of up to $2,000 per acre-foot of water supplied by MWD that exceeds monthly allocation limits.

According to MWD, its member agencies will be responsible for determining which days watering will be allowed for its customers. Individual agencies can also opt — instead of enforcing the one-day watering rule — to meet a pre-determined limit on the overall reduced amount of water they can use. If the agencies exceed that limit, they will face the same fines.

In San Diego, Sandra L. Kerl, General Manager, San Diego County Water Authority said in a statement, “The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s Board of Directors today voted to implement a series of actions to address serious water shortages in parts of its service area that solely depend on the State Water Project. Those restrictions do not directly affect residents and businesses who receive water from the San Diego County Water Authority through their retail water provider because our region is not currently receiving water from the State Water Project.

“The San Diego region continues to have reliable water supplies for 2022 and beyond due to a long-term commitment to conservation and investments in a diversified water supply portfolio, including drought-resilient sources like the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant. However, extreme drought conditions are felt widely across the West, and we strongly support agencies taking appropriate conservation actions where they are needed.

“The Water Authority’s Board of Directors has not enacted water-use mandates as we wait for the State Water Board’s direction and final emergency regulations in late May. In addition, Water Authority’s diversified supplies remain intact.

“We continue to support the Governor’s call for increased voluntary conservation at homes and businesses. We encourage actions such as taking shorter showers and fixing leaks immediately, along with taking advantage of rebates for replacing turf with landscapes that are WaterSmart and climate-appropriate.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom last month directed MWD and other water suppliers statewide to ramp up conservation efforts by advancing water-shortage contingency plans

MWD offers a rebate of $2 per square foot for people who replace their grass with water-efficient landscaping. Rebates are also available from other local water agencies.

The rebate program has helped remove 200 million square feet of grass, which has saved enough water to provide about 62,000 homes with water each year, officials said.

City News Service contributed to this report.