Southern California’s largest urban water district declared a drought emergency on Tuesday and urged local water utilities to immediately reduce water use from the State Water Project.
The resolution passed by the board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California calls on people across the region to step up conservation efforts, but also focuses specifically on six water agencies that rely heavily or entirely on the arid State Water Project.
The water authorities serving cities in the Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties have been directed to take additional protective measures and reduce their water use from the State Water Project, which is on record after one of the state’s driest years.
“We are focused on getting the message across in our service area that people need to increase their focus on conservation,” said Deputy General Manager Deven Upadhyay.
He said the declaration of a drought emergency is intended to support Governor Gavin Newsom’s call for Californians to voluntarily reduce water use by 15%, but it should also focus on the actions required by the MWD affiliate subgroup, which is managed by the state water supply depend on the project.
“These are the areas that we really need to respond to now,” said Upadhyay. “We ask you to take immediate action to increase nature conservation in order to maintain supplies for the State Water Project.”
California’s last two water years, ending September 30, were the driest two years in more than a century of rainfall records. And the drought has been compounded by the extreme heat released by global warming.
Although October storms brought heavy rains across Northern California and helped raise reservoir levels, the State Water Project continues to run out of supplies.
This year, as the state’s largest reservoirs hit some of the lowest levels ever, water authorities only received 5% of their full allocations from the State Water Project. Next month, state water authorities are expected to announce an initial zero percent allocation for 2022.
The allocation usually changes over the course of the year, depending on the amount of snow and rain, and the outlook could improve. But how much is uncertain. In the meantime, managers are being told by agencies dependent on the State Water Project to prepare for much less water.
MWD imports water from the State Water Project and the Colorado River, supplying 19 million people in six counties. Both sources face bottlenecks.
The State Water Project supplies water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to farmlands and cities in the south. Built in the 1960s and early 70s, the project includes canals, pipelines, reservoirs and pumping equipment.
For now, California’s Colorado River water grants haven’t been reduced like Arizona and Nevada’s, but that may change as Lake Mead’s water levels continue to decline toward greater scarcity.
Right now, drought conditions at the State Water Project, MWD officials said, are particularly severe and require immediate action.
Areas dependent on the State Water Project are served by six agencies: Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Calleguas Municipal Water District, Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, Three Valleys Municipal Water District, and Inland Empire Utilities Agency.
LADWP officials urged customers to redouble their water-saving efforts.
“The drought we are currently facing is serious,” said Anselmo Collins, senior assistant general manager of LADWP’s water system. “We urge everyone to take a closer look at how they use water inside and outside their home because the water we are saving now is water in our reservoirs for next spring and summer.”
Los Angeles officials announced last month that the city has begun drawing less water from the State Water Project and receiving additional water from the Colorado River.
MWD acts as a water wholesaler and supplies 26 member cities and agencies with water. Officials from each local water company will decide how to respond to MWD’s drought declaration.
Upadhyay said MWD is asking the six agencies that depend on the State Water Project to “implement measures they deem necessary as part of their own contingency plans for water scarcity” that they have submitted to the state.
For some agencies, the response could be to impose restrictions limiting the days of the week that outdoor watering is allowed, Upadhyay said. For other agencies whose tariffs are based on water budgets and provide conservation incentives, one approach could be to lower the amount of water that is allowed below the first price level before there is a higher rate to exceed that amount.
“Each agency is likely to take slightly different actions,” Upadhyay said. “We are trying to hold these supplies currently available in the State Water Project’s system as long as possible until we receive an allocation notice that is other than zero.”
MWD officials said they recognize that the situation of different water authorities varies depending on their available supplies and local conditions. In their resolution, the MWD Board urged the water authorities to reduce their consumption of supplies from the State Water Project and immediately implement conservation requirements and restrictions in order to achieve these reductions.
The board of directors of the Calleguas urban water district in the Ventura district will shortly take up a proposal to implement additional water protection measures aimed at reducing water consumption by 15%, said Dan Drugan, the district’s resource manager.
“That means some of our cities could move forward with stricter irrigation plans,” said Drugan. “And we’ve already seen that in Simi Valley. At the moment they have been switched to watering for two days. “
Other drought restrictions include bans hosing down driveways or sidewalks, Drugan said, and more local officials could also patrol the streets to prevent overwatering and waste.
MWD said in a statement that it took “extraordinary measures” this year to preserve the State Water Project’s supplies by getting as much water as possible from the Colorado River. This required upgrading a pumping station to move the Colorado River further west into the San Fernando Valley and southern Ventura County.
“Our supplies on the Colorado River are also limited – there is also a drought in this system – so we all need to be careful,” MWD chairman Gloria Gray said in a statement. “But the urgency now lies with the State Water Project. That is why we are calling for more nature conservation in these dependent areas. “
In a further step to promote nature conservation, the MWD board expanded several water-saving programs, increased discounts for grass removal and provided additional funds for programs that help to finance water-saving toilets and devices.
Gray said the immediate focus is on expanding the State Water Project’s limited supplies in the event the zero water allocation persists.
Southern California sources, on average, about a third of its water from northern California through the project’s pumps and aqueducts, she said. “Next year we’ll be happy to get a small fraction of that.”