'Climate change whiplash': California tightens water restrictions in midst of worst-ever drought

·Senior Editor
·3 min read

A lot of lawns will be dying this summer, as new restrictions on water use took effect on Wednesday for 6 million residents in Southern California.

In its third straight year of severe drought, California is currently experiencing its driest year on record, a pattern that scientists have said is linked to climate change. That has led to cutbacks in the amount of water being delivered to Southern California residents via the State Water Project (SWP).

High winds and blowing sand drop the visibility to near zero during a fierce storm in California's southern desert on May 8 in Cathedral City.
High winds and blowing sand drop the visibility to near zero during a fierce storm in California's southern desert on May 8 in Cathedral City. (George Rose/Getty Images)

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California announced emergency water limits on Wednesday. Exact restrictions will vary by city, but typically will involve limiting outdoor watering to one or two days per week. Some areas will instead limit the volume of water each customer can use. In Los Angeles, residents will be allowed to water their lawns twice each week for just eight minutes at a time. The area covered by the new rules includes Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Ventura counties, accounting for about one-third of Metropolitan Water District customers in Southern California.

“People need to take these restrictions seriously. There is not enough SWP water coming from Northern California this year to meet normal demands. So we must do everything we can to lower our use and stretch this limited supply,” Metropolitan general manager Adel Hagekhalil said in a statement. Hagekhalil warned that if customers don’t comply with these restrictions, even more stringent action will be required.

Keith Lewis waters his lawn in front of his home on 81st Place in Los Angeles.
Keith Lewis waters his lawn in front of his home on 81st Place in Los Angeles. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

According to the Los Angeles Times, many Angelenos are adjusting by replacing their lawns with more drought-friendly landscaping, while others are letting their grass turn yellow. And some, especially in wealthier neighborhoods, are simply flouting the rules, although officials insist there will be rigorous enforcement, with fines of up to $600 for violations.

Mirna Prado, whose husband is a gardener for houses in Beverly Hills and Bel Air, said some of her husband’s clients have instructed him to keep watering even when it’s prohibited. “Some say they are paying so much for landscaping, they don’t want to [follow the restrictions],” Prado told the newspaper. “They prefer to pay the fine.”

An agricultural drainage ditch in Mecca, Calif.
An agricultural drainage ditch in Mecca, Calif. (George Rose/Getty Images)

All Californians have been asked to reduce water usage by 20% to 30% under an executive order from Gov. Gavin Newsom. The entire state has been struggling with water scarcity for some time. “We are experiencing climate change whiplash in real time, with extreme swings between wet and dry conditions,” Karla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said in a written statement when the plan for the restrictions was unveiled just over one month ago.

Southern California has warmed about 3°F in the past century, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, leading to more frequent and severe heat waves, droughts and wildfires.

The entire West is struggling with similar conditions. Last summer, the federal government declared a water shortage at Lake Mead, one of the Colorado River's biggest reservoirs, triggering water supply cuts to Arizona farmers.

Houseboats sit in the drought-lowered waters of Oroville Lake, near Oroville, Calif., in April.
Houseboats sit in the drought-lowered waters of Oroville Lake, near Oroville, Calif., in April. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

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