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California drought

Low water levels are visible at Lake Oroville in Oroville, California in this July 22, 2021 photo. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

'Unprecedented' Water Restrictions Ordered in Drought-Ravaged California

"We don't have enough water supplies right now to meet normal demand," warns one state official. "The water is not there."

Brett Wilkins

As California endures a third year of record-breaking drought exacerbated by the climate crisis, officials on Tuesday declared the state's first-ever water shortage emergency and ordered outdoor use restrictions that will affect around six million people in three southern counties. 

"We're reaching uncharted territory here and we need all Southern Californians to be part of the solution."

The Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California announced that it will limit outdoor watering to one day per week, effective June 1 in parts of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Ventura counties.

"We don't have enough water supplies right now to meet normal demand. The water is not there," MWD spokesperson Rebecca Kimitch told reporters. "This is unprecedented territory. We've never done anything like this before."

Adel Hagekhalil, MWD's general manager, said: "We're reaching uncharted territory here and we need all Southern Californians to be part of the solution. We need everyone to take action to reduce their water use immediately. This drought emergency declaration helps us all move in the same direction."

MWD, the nation's largest wholesaler of treated water, draws supplies from the Colorado River and State Water Project—a complex system involving aqueducts, pumping stations, and power plants to redistribute water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in the north to farmland and cities to the south—to serve 19 million people in 26 public water jurisdictions. 

According to the Los Angeles Times:

California's drought, now in a third year, has become the driest on record and has been intensified by hotter temperatures unleashed by climate change. With the state's major reservoirs at low levels, the MWD has been left without enough water in parts of Southern California.

"These areas rely on extremely limited supplies from Northern California, and there is not enough supply available to meet the normal demands in these areas for the remainder of the year," Hagekhalil told the paper.

MWD says it will only be able to deliver about 5% of its usual water allocation this year. The agency pointed to the historic drought, which is now in its third year. Last year and 2020 saw the lowest precipitation ever measured in the state, and the first three months of 2022 were the driest in its recorded history in terms of rain and snowfall.

The Golden State has experienced higher-than-average rain and snowfall so far this month, with parts of the Sierra Nevada mountain region receiving twice as much precipitation in April than in January.

Sean de Guzman, manager of snow surveys and water supply forecasting at the California Department of Water Resources, told the Times that April's unusual precipitation is "a prime example of the weather whiplash we are now experiencing due to climate change."

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