Across large swaths of California, brown lawns are making a comeback.
Southern California officials this week announced new water conservation rules, including forbidding millions of households from turning on their sprinklers more than once a week.
These restrictions, among the harshest ever imposed in the Golden State, reflect just how dire our state’s drought has become.
“I want to stress how critical this is: The amount of water we have available to us right now is not going to be enough to carry us through the entire year unless we do something different,” Adel Hagekhalil, the general manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said at a news briefing on Wednesday. “This is a wake-up call.”
Despite heavy showers in December and a refresher in April, the bulk of California’s wet season was unusually rain-free. Gov. Gavin Newsom has called for a 15 percent voluntary reduction in residential water use, but we’re far from reaching that goal.
The low precipitation levels have left the state’s reservoirs depleted and our snowpack a measly 33 percent of what it usually is this time of year. So local water distributors are figuring out how to survive on limited supplies.
The town of Healdsburg in Sonoma County has already banned all yard irrigation. Los Angeles’s primary water agency is prohibiting watering on certain days of the week. East Bay officials on Tuesday called for a 10 percent reduction in water use and outlawed watering lawns between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. to reduce evaporation.
But the biggest news was that officials from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, one of the largest water distributors in the nation, announced their own sweeping restrictions this week. The cuts come after the State Water Project, which typically supplies the district from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, greatly reduced its allocation.
Though the average Southern Californian typically uses 125 gallons of water per day, the district currently has only about 80 gallons of water per person per day for the most water-starved sections of Ventura, San Bernardino and Los Angeles Counties, said Deven Upadhyay, the district’s chief operating officer.
“That’s why normal will not work,” Upadhyay said at the briefing. “We need to urgently save the water that we have for the greatest public benefit, and that means limiting outdoor water use to one day a week.”
Restricting outdoor water usage is the most effective way to cut back since that’s where most of our residential water goes. And it’s especially vital as summer approaches because the water needs of plants increase in warmer months, experts say.
Officials say that if water consumption does not sufficiently decrease or if drought conditions worsen in the coming months, they could take the additional step of banning all outdoor irrigation as early as September 1.
Now I’ll dive into the new rules and whether they’ll apply to you:
Who is affected?
The restrictions from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California will apply to more than six million Californians across 80 cities in Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino Counties.
Check this map to see if you live in one of these areas.
When will the new rules go into effect?
What are the restrictions?
The water district is mandating that the local agencies it supplies cut their usage by roughly 35 percent.
The agencies can either forbid households from watering their lawns more than once a week, or find an alternative way to achieve the same savings.
You’ll need to check with your local agency for details once it finalizes its plan.
The affected water agencies include Calleguas Municipal Water District, Inland Empire Utilities Agency, Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Three Valleys Municipal Water District and Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District.
How will this be enforced?
Your local water agency could face $2,000 in fines from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California if it doesn’t comply with the restrictions.
Are there exceptions?
Even once the new rules are in effect, you’ll still be allowed to hand-water trees and other perennials to keep them from dying, according to the order.
You will also be able to run drip or other high-efficiency irrigation systems more than once a week if the volume is consistent with what a less efficient system would spend in one day.
What we’re eating
A crunchy and bright salsa made with salted mixed nuts balances the lightness of this oven-steamed fish.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from David Richards, who recommends Palisades Tahoe, formerly known as Squaw Valley:
“This is the home of the 1960 Winter Olympics. Many of the original structures are here. Most impressive is the Aerial Tramway to the top of the mountain. If you’re not a skier, make this trip in the summer and enjoy the myriad hiking and biking trails in this remotely picturesque Tahoe location.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
What we’re recommending
A show at the Broad in Los Angeles explores an artist’s efforts to confront the ills of society, and his own anxiety.
And before you go, some good news
What were you doing at 19? Probably nothing you’d want to brag about.
Well, Diego Rojas, a 19-year-old who graduated from Berkeley High School last year, runs his own coffee shop. The drive-up spot in Albany opened this month.
“So far, customers really love our coffee,” Rojas told Berkeleyside.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: “___ Is Blind” (reality TV show) (4 letters).
Jack Kramer contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.
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