Drought Watch: A dry winter could mean tougher restrictions

Rancher Jon Pedotti walks on the cracked remains of a parched lake bed of his 1,561-acre ranch located along San Simeon Creek in the Santa Lucia Mountain foothills of Cambria, CA that are brown from drought on October 1, 2014.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

What will happen with water restrictions if California doesn’t get significant rain and snow this winter?

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which provides the Southland with imported supplies from Northern California and the Colorado River, would probably ration deliveries to local agencies by increasing the price of water purchased in excess of a base amount. Metropolitan last did that during the 2007-09 drought.

Local water districts would, in turn, impose tougher water restrictions on customers.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti this month asked Angelenos to reduce their water use by 20%. If they don’t, Garcetti said, the city will further limit outdoor watering — now restricted to three days a week — and require covers for swimming pools to reduce evaporation.


Is this a mega-drought?

This is one of the worst droughts in the state record, but California has experienced far longer dry periods. Scientists have found evidence of droughts that lasted for more than a century during medieval times.

Has the drought turned California’s farmland into a dust bowl?

No. Water shortages forced farmers to leave an estimated 500,000 acres unplanted this year. That accounts for only about 6% of the state’s irrigated cropland. Growers in the Imperial Valley, who get water from the Colorado River, received full deliveries this year. Those Central Valley farmers who received no water from the region’s big federal irrigation project pumped groundwater and bought supplies from districts that hold senior water rights.


What are the chances that the drought will end this winter?

Long term weather forecasting is notoriously uncertain. Federal forecasters this month said there is at least a two-in-three chance that precipitation will be near or above normal statewide. That wouldn’t be enough to refill depleted reservoirs, though. As of Oct. 1, total statewide reservoir storage was at 36% of capacity, or 57% of average for the date.

What is the best way to reduce water use at home?

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power estimates that 40% to 60% of the city’s drinking water is used for outdoor irrigation, much of it for lawns. The department is encouraging residents to eliminate thirsty grass by offering turf-removal rebates.

Would seawater desalination end California’s water shortages?

Turning ocean water into drinking water is expensive and energy-intensive. Delivering water inland also requires new infrastructure. Los Angeles officials say they can develop new supplies more quickly by recycling treated wastewater, cleaning up the San Fernando Valley’s contaminated groundwater basin and encouraging conservation.

Who uses more water: urban dwellers or farmers?

About a quarter of Californians’ water use is urban, and roughly three-fourths is for agriculture. Thanks to indoor conservation measures and increasing density, Los Angeles uses about the same amount of water today as it did four decades ago, despite the addition of about 1 million residents.


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