As California faces the prospect of a fourth consecutive dry year, officials from Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District have declared a regional drought emergency and called on water agencies to immediately reduce their use. of all imported supplies.
The MWD board’s decision came about eight months after authorities declared a similar emergency for 7 million people who depend on supplies from the State Water Project, a vast network of reservoirs, canals and dams. which carry water from Northern California. Residents who rely on California’s other major supply — the Colorado River — weren’t included in that emergency declaration.
“Conditions on the Colorado River are becoming increasingly dire,” MWD President Gloria Gray said in a statement. “We simply cannot continue to turn to this source to make up the difference in our limited state supplies. In addition, three years of drought in California are depleting our local storage. »
Officials said the call for conservation could become mandatory if drought conditions persist in the coming months, which some experts say is likely. By April, the MWD will consider allocating supplies to all of its 26 member agencies, requiring them to either reduce their use of imported water or face steep additional charges.
“Since the onset of this drought, we have steadily increased our call for conservation. If we don’t have an extremely wet winter, we will have to reach our highest level – an all-Southern California water supply allocation,” said MWD General Manager Adel Hagekhalil. “Substantial and immediate conservation now and in the months to come will help mitigate the potential severity of such an allocation.”
MWD member agencies, which include the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the Municipal Water District of Orange County, and the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, will implement voluntary and mandatory conservation measures at the local level as appropriate to their circumstances. particular, officials said. Those with local supplies or other alternative options may be able to rely on them in the meantime.
The LADWP, which imports state and federal water as well as water from the Owens Valley via the Los Angeles Aqueduct, is in Tier 3 of its water shortage contingency plan. water since June, including outdoor watering limitations two days a week.
But about half of the water imported by the MWD comes from the State Water Project and the other half from the Colorado River – both of which have become “extraordinarily stressed by prolonged drought exacerbated by climate change”, the agency said. .
The Colorado River has fallen to levels so low that officials said it could reach “dead pool” levels, or a point at which water drops below the lowest inlet valve. California and six other states that depend on the river have come under pressure from the federal government to drastically reduce its use.
In October, some California water agencies, including the MWD, pledged use reductions of up to 400,000 acre-feet per year, or about 9% of the 4.4 million water allocated to the river by the State, until 2026.
The State Water Project has come under similar pressure. California’s three driest years of water on record led to record deliveries in Southern California, and earlier this month state officials said they could only allocate 5% supplies requested next year if drought conditions do not improve significantly.
Compulsory measures in areas dependent on the state water project will continue at least until June next year and possibly longer, the MWD said. They urged residents to continue their conservation efforts, including reducing irrigation in yards and gardens.
“Some Southern Californians may have felt somewhat sheltered from these extreme conditions over the past few years,” Gray said. “They shouldn’t. We are all concerned. »
Los Angeles Times