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Climate and Environment

With Water Reserves Worryingly Low, Southern California Water Districts Declare Drought Emergency

A buoy sits on dry ground that was previously underwater at Lake Oroville.
As the extreme drought emergency continues in California, Lake Oroville's water levels remain very low.
(Justin Sullivan
Getty Images)
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The Metropolitan Water District Of Southern California this week officially declared a drought emergency.

Why? Well, the past two years were the driest on record in California, leaving water reserves worryingly low. The move here follows Gov. Gavin Newsom's expansion last month of a drought emergency for the entire state, which called for a 15% voluntary reduction in water use.

Now, six local water agencies in L.A., Ventura and San Bernardino counties, are being asked to put measures in place that'll encourage customers to save water.

"Residents will be asked to make adjustments to how they are using water," explained Brad Coffey, a water resource manager. "Or their agency may adjust other mechanisms such as pricing, to encourage using less water."

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These agencies cover a broad area from Oxnard and Thousand Oaks, east through Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Valley, and into the Inland Empire.

In two images, water levels at Lake Oroville are low in the top image, with dry banks visible on either side with a bridge spanning the banks and the water reaching almost to the pylons. In the bottom image, very little water remains..
In this before-and-after composite image, an aerial view shows Lake Oroville water levels on April 27, 2021 and again on July 22, 2021.
(Justin Sullivan
Getty Images)

Coffey says those areas were chosen because they rely heavily on the State Water Project, which channels water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in Northern California. Water levels at Lake Oroville, the project's main storage reservoir, are extremely low and other reservoirs are also far below average.

Coffey notes that since these are key sources of water, Southern California could get cut off from that supply next year. As the drought emergency declaration says:

Continued action by Southern California residents to conserve water and extend local groundwater and surface water supplies will provide greater resilience if the drought continues in future years.

The declaration calls for participating agencies to "identify and implement measures to ensure all portions of the service area attain a high level of reliability against multi-year, severe droughts." It also calls for an "appropriate regional message" that lays out "specified emergency conditions."

A report, issued last month following the statewide declaration from Newsom, laid out plans to conserve the water supply.

During past drought emergencies, water districts have implemented a series of conservation steps for individual to take. Be Water Wise offers tips, as well as grants and incentives for households and businesses to conserve water.

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