Southern California businesses and residents are asked to reduce outdoor watering as drought leaves 'half the water that we need' for summer

Originally Published: 27 APR 22 07:07 ET
Updated: 27 APR 22 07:54 ET

    (CNN) -- Facing "drought conditions unlike anything we've experienced before," Southern California officials are demanding businesses and residents in parts of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties cut outdoor watering to one day a week.

"For the summer, we have half the water that we need right now in these communities," said Rebecca Kimitch, program manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The move comes as California faces persistent climate crisis-fueled dry conditions that have led to major water shortages, despite record snow in early winter. Last summer, the state saw its most severe drought in its 126-year record.

The new restrictions must be implemented by June 1, with water district member agencies expected to enforce them, Kimitch said. Some 6 million people live in the affected areas and rely on water piped down from Northern California.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power -- which has had watering restrictions for more than a decade -- will work with water district and city officials as the emergency drought regulations are finalized, it said, adding residential water use in its zone already is 111 gallons per day, among the lowest in the region.

"Additional water use restrictions should be balanced against the high level of conservation that has already been achieved by ... customers. Conserving water must be accomplished region wide," the agency told CNN in a statement.

Indeed, the issue goes beyond California. The federal government in August declared its first water shortage on the Colorado River, leading to mandatory water cuts for states in the Southwest.

Snowpack suffers severe decline

While parts of California got record snow late last year, it wasn't enough to alleviate the dire drought conditions.

About 17 feet of snow fell in December at Berkeley's Central Sierra Snow Laboratory at the University of California, making it the snowiest December on record there and the third-snowiest month overall, those scientists said.

But precipitation declined after that, with the January-March period the driest "by a huge margin" in 101 years of record-keeping at three key observing stations in California, the National Weather Service reported.

That decrease has been showing up in a decline of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, which was just 38% of normal this winter.

Snow usually builds up in the Sierra Nevada throughout the winter, storing water that later melts and flows into reservoirs in the spring. Snowpack provides 30% of California's water, according to the state Department of Water Resources.

South of Lake Tahoe, at Phillips Station, snow depth was 2.5 inches on April 1, compared with that day's average depth there of 66.5 inches, official said. That meager snow depth amounts to 1 inch of water content -- a mere 4% of average for April 1, said Sean de Guzman, an engineer with the department.

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