California threatens ‘mandatory water restrictions’ if people don’t cut back

California could face mandatory water restrictions if residents don’t use less on their own as the drought drags on and the hotter summer months approach, the state’s governor has said.

Gavin Newsom threatened the possibly of statewide mandates in a meeting with representatives from major water agencies, including those that supply Los Angeles, San Diego and the San Francisco Bay Area, according to his office. The Democratic governor has avoided issuing sweeping mandatory cuts in water use and instead favored an approach that gives local water agencies power to set rules for water use in the cities and towns they supply.

January through March is typically when most of California’s annual rain and snow falls, but this year those months were the driest in at least a century. Despite calls for conservation, the state’s water use went up dramatically in March – 19% compared to the same month in 2020 – and now Newsom is considering changing his approach.

“Every water agency across the state needs to take more aggressive actions to communicate about the drought emergency and implement conservation measures,” Newsom said in a statement.

Some parts of California have already imposed local water restrictions on residents. This month, the mayor of Los Angeles ordered households and businesses to restrict outdoor watering to just two days a week in an effort to conserve.

California is in its third year of drought and virtually all areas of the state are classified as either in severe or extreme drought.

Newsom last summer called on Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15% by doing things like taking five-minute showers and avoiding baths, only running the washing machine and dishwasher with full loads and limiting water use for cleaning outdoor areas. But residents have fallen far short of the goal.

How soon Newsom could impose mandatory restrictions if conservation doesn’t improve wasn’t clear. He plans to meet with the water agencies again in two months, his office said. A spokesperson, Erin Mellon, said the administration would reassess conservation progress in just “a few weeks”. She didn’t offer a metric the administration would use to measure.

Newsom has already moved to force more conservation from local water districts. He directed the state water resources control board to consider a ban on watering of decorative turf, such as grass in office parks, and to force local agencies to step up their conservation efforts.

After the last drought, the state started requiring cities and other water districts to submit drought response plans that detail six levels of conservation based on how much water is available. Newsom has asked the board to require those districts to move into “level 2” of their plans, which assumes a 20% water shortage.

Each district can set its own rules for “level 2” and they often include measures like further limiting water use for outdoor purposes and paying people to install more efficient appliances or landscaping that needs less water. They must include a communication plan to urge local residents to use less water.

The board will vote on those measures on Tuesday, and they would take effect 10 giugno.

La settimana scorsa, while touring a water recycling plant in Los Angeles county, Newsom spoke about the need to better communicate the need for water conservation with the state’s 39 un milione di persone. He has included $100m in his budget for drought messaging.

During the last drought, a partire dal 2012 per 2016, the former governor Jerry Brown issued a mandatory 25% cut in the state’s overall water use, and the state water board set requirements for how much each water district had to cut based on their existing water use; districts in which people used more water were asked to cut more. Acqua agencies could be fined up to $10,000 a day if they didn’t comply.

Newsom’s current approach gives local water districts some more flexibility, and he’s said it’s important to recognize different parts of the state have their own water needs.

The state water board has imposed some statewide restrictions such as banning people from watering their lawns for 48 hours after rainstorms and sprinklers from running on to sidewalks. People can be fined $500 per day for violations.

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