California imposes permanent water restrictions on residents

For the first time in its history, California has imposed permanent water restrictions on its cities and towns to address the drought-stricken state's water conservation and resilience issues.

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The new rule, passed by the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) on Wednesday, requires the state's largest water utilities – which serve 95 percent of California residents – to reduce their water supplies over the next 15 years. The rule does not directly apply to households or individuals in the state.

The committee has previously implemented temporary drought-conservation measures, but this is the first time the Golden State has adopted permanent water-conservation measures. The idea is to now ask suppliers to conserve the precious resource at all times to prevent the state from having to scramble for water savings during droughts. This will help “make water conservation a California way of life,” according to the SWRCB.

The Badwater Basin, where Lake Manly is located, is seen on a 38-degree spring day as people walk on the salt flats surrounding what remains of the lake, near Furnace Creek, California, on April 23, 2024….

George Rose/Getty Images

The state has experienced two severe droughts in the last decade and is expected to face a 10 percent water shortage by 2040 due to hotter and drier weather conditions. Therefore, a water conservation solution is urgently needed.

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Under the new regulation, which is expected to come into force on January 1, 2025, providers will have to calculate their water budgets based on the needs of each municipality, taking into account the following factors: water consumption in private homes, water consumption in outdoor areas, commercial, industrial and institutional areas with special irrigation meters and the maximum allowable amount of water loss by a provider due to leakage.

The sum of these water budgets, called the “water use target,” is what the city's water utilities will ultimately have to meet, according to SWRCB. It is expected that utilities will deliver up to 40 percent less water to residents. If they do not reduce their deliveries, they face fines of up to $10,000 per day.

Suppliers can limit their water supplies by imposing restrictions on consumers, encouraging them to save by increasing prices or promoting the use of low-water consumption appliances.

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The rule, combined with efforts already underway to conserve water in the state, is expected to result in annual water savings of about 500,000 acre-feet by 2040. “Enough to supply more than 1.4 million households for a year,” the SWRCB wrote in a press release.

The regulation will now be submitted to the State Office for Administrative Law for official adoption.

Newsweek SWRCB emailed SWRCB early Friday for comment.

“Today is an exciting and historic moment for California because we have now formalized water conservation as a way of life,” said Joaquin Esquivel, SWRCB board chair, in a press release. “We have accomplished this by building on lessons learned from droughts and extensive input from water systems, customers and the public. The result is a balance between conserving water and ensuring suppliers have the flexibility to adapt their conservation strategies to local needs and climate.”

Not all cities and towns in California will face the same cuts. The Bay Area, which has historically used less water than others, will see only limited savings; the California Water Service Company in Salinas will only have to cut its supplies by 1 percent by 2040, the Desert Sun reports. The Desert Water Agency, a provider based in Palm Springs, by contrast, faces a 32 percent cut by the same year.

The biggest cuts are planned for the city of Redding: 21 percent by 2025 and 39 percent by 2040.