Southern California to start stringent water restrictions

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California will either limit residents to a once-a-week outdoor watering or reduce water use.
Residents in parts of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties will either be limited to watering outdoors once a week or reduce total water use below a certain amount.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California will either limit residents to a once-a-week outdoor watering or reduce water use.

California is unfortunately no stranger to drought.

The state is in the midst of its three driest years in history, and its months of usual precipitation — January, February and March — were among the driest California has ever seen, according to

In response, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the water wholesaler that provides water to Southern California, declared an emergency water shortage April 26.

Metropolitan’s member agencies, which include six major water providers and many cities and districts, will be required to enforce one of two options: residents can only water outdoors once a week, or they have to keep their total water use below a specific target.

These restrictions will start June 1, impacting 6 million residents in areas of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

Maritza Fairfield, principal public affairs representative of the Metropolitan Water District, explains that Metropolitan imports 30% of its water supply from Northern California via the State Water Project, 25% from the Colorado River via the Colorado River Aqueduct that Metropolitan owns and operates, and the rest from local supplies that are developed by the local agencies.

“We’re seeing severe drought on both systems’ imported water supplies,” Fairfield says. “But our most acute challenge is with our State Water Project supply. … We don’t have the water that we need to meet demands this year.”

The decision to halt outdoor watering stemmed from how the bulk of water in Southern California is used outdoors, Fairfield says. Residents of more inland areas that have larger landscapes and drier conditions can use up to 70% of their water outdoors.

Metropolitan will monitor water use for all of the agencies that are affected, and agencies have to come up with an enforcement plan to make sure consumers follow the water restrictions. If the agencies don’t implement enforcement plans, Metropolitan will levy a penalty to the agencies.

The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, one of the six major water providers to the area, released a statement April 26 saying that it will continue to work closely with Los Angeles officials and Metropolitan as Metropolitan finalizes its emergency drought recommendations. The city has been under phase 2 water restrictions for over a decade, and residential water use has been reduced to 111 gallons of water a day.

“Additional water use restrictions should be balanced against the high level of conservation that has already been achieved by LADWP customers,” according to the statement. “Conserving water must be accomplished region-wide.”

Local reactions

David Silva, CWM, CLIA, QWEL, resource management and water programs manager for the California Landscape Contractors Association, Sacramento, California, expresses concern with this reliance on agencies to enforce the water restrictions.

“They don’t have a lot of resources available for water conservation funding and the personnel to be able to enforce these types of things,” Silva says. “It makes it really difficult for them to do their jobs.”

For Jesus Javier Huerta, CIT, president of Grow Control Landscape LLC, El Monte, California, these new water restrictions miss the water conservancy mark.

“The cities, counties and municipalities think that every garden is the same,” Huerta says. “In the professional irrigation world, sure, you can go out there and adjust the times, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense because of the water requirements of each landscape.”

To meet these water restrictions, Huerta predicts a complete alteration of the irrigation systems Southern California knows. He says that irrigation systems will have to be monitored extremely closely, possibly even requiring the hiring of irrigation managers and water managers to manage systems to stay compliant.

“It’s just going to make it more difficult,” Huerta says. “It’s going to be one of those things where, as an irrigation contractor or even a designer, systems are just going to have to be more expensive, because they will have to be more complicated to meet those new restrictions.”

To Maureen Erbeznik, principal at Maureen Erbeznik & Associates, a water efficiency consulting firm in Los Angeles, the water restrictions take Southern California back to a time before the area started emphasizing water conservancy through the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance, water budgets, smart controllers, high-efficiency nozzles and putting in climate-appropriate plants.

“I think there’s no empirical evidence that it saves water, and it’s impossible to fully enforce,” Erbeznik says. “This random one-day-a-week water takes us back — it goes against all of what we’ve done for water conservancy.”

Erbeznik recalls when California experienced a drought in the ‘70s, and a similar water restriction was implemented. Residents took full advantage of the watering window and turned their water on outside for extended periods of time during that permitted day.

“Now you’ve got runoff that’s going to go down into storm drains and pollutants, everything that we’ve been trying to fight against,” Erbeznik says.

Fairfield says that if Southern California doesn’t see the progress it’s looking for with the new restrictions, there’s possibility for Metropolitan to implement a full-out ban on outdoor watering by Sept. 1.

“We’ve heard some residents are concerned about their lawns, and we totally understand that,” Fairfield says. “But right now, we’re trying to make sure that we have the water that we need to drink and for human safety and sanitation. That’s really our focus, just to be able to get through this crisis.”

Silva expresses trepidation whether the area will be able to see these changes in water usage.

“I don’t foresee the public changing much, unless there is real enforcement and real teeth to the restrictions,” Silva says. “If that’s the case and we get into September and no watering is allowed, that’s going to be pretty dire for our industry and for the public as a whole.”

Instead of watering bans, Irrigation Association CEO Natasha Rankin, MBA, CAE, pushes for the promotion of smart irrigation technologies and increased education.

“The Irrigation Association ardently advocates for best practices that support more efficient water use,” says Rankin. “While this ordinance may intend to help conserve water, we see greater effectiveness in promoting smart irrigation technologies such as weather-based controllers and pressure regulating systems. At a time when water availability is a concern for so many people on the West Coast, we should be working together with water districts and help contractors and customers better understand the efficient irrigation tools that can save water and sustain our landscapes.

“Irrigation professionals have an opportunity to use this moment to discuss smart irrigation options with their clients and communities. Education is the best way to create an understanding that we can use strong irrigation practices to have sustainable landscapes while being responsible stewards of this precious resource.”

McKenna Corson is the digital content editor for Irrigation & Lighting and can be reached at

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