California cities restrict water usage as drought worsens

  • Article by: JAMES NASH , Bloomberg News
  • Updated: February 4, 2014 - 8:20 PM

In some areas, pools and hot tubs can’t be filled, and restaurants can’t serve water unless the customers ask.

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The Almaden Reservoir, which is almost dried up, in San Jose, Calif., last week.

Photo: Jim Wilson • New York Times,

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– Cities and institutions across California are resorting to exceptional measures to deal with a worsening drought, from mandatory water restrictions in beachside Santa Cruz to voluntary cutbacks in Los Angeles.

Santa Cruz, which relies on rainfall, won’t permit residents to refill swimming pools or hot tubs and has barred restaurants from serving water unless specifically requested.

The Metropolitan Water District, the Los Angeles-based utility for 19 million people in Southern California, is asking customers to voluntarily reduce water use by 20 percent.

About two-thirds of California is gripped by “severe” or “exceptional” drought, the most severe conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a federal website.

Nine percent of the state is considered exceptionally dry. It’s the state’s most severe drought since at least 1977, according to Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District.

“People do know about this and are becoming convinced that there’s a statewide crisis,” said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies.

With California’s snowpack at just 12 percent of the average for this period, the state Water Resources Department said Jan. 31 that it was allocating no water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to local water agencies, for the first time in state history.

Snowmelt and rain feeding the delta make it the single largest source for California’s 38 million residents and 25.4 million acres of farmland.

Even before the announcement, many California water agencies had asked consumers to cut use by 5 percent to 50 percent by not watering lawns with sprinklers overnight, sweeping rather than washing driveways and other pavement, taking shorter showers and flushing toilets less frequently.

California Bottling Co. in Roseville has seen a surge in orders for bottled water, said the company’s owner, Marc Thomas. One customer, his company’s largest, boosted orders to 200,000 cases, about 30 percent more than what it usually buys this time of year.

Thomas said he’s been told by a government official that a worst-case scenario for his company would be that he may have to pay a drought surcharge on some of the water he purchases from municipalities for bottling.

Santa Cruz, a community of 62,000 about 75 miles south of San Francisco, bars residents from watering lawns and gardens between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

So far, 843 households and businesses have been cited for violations, said Eileen Cross, a city spokeswoman.

In the Sierra Nevada foothills, the Tuolomne Utilities District, which serves about 44,000 people, is enforcing restrictions intended to reduce water use by half. Residents can’t wash vehicles, driveways or sidewalks by hose, and aren’t allowed to water lawns between noon and 7 p.m.

Hearst Castle, a 165-room National Landmark mansion built by publisher William Randolph Hearst during the mid-20th century, is receiving 47,000 gallons of water daily from its mountain springs, compared with a norm of 285,000 gallons, said Jim Allen, a spokesman for the state park that manages the property.

Park officials are no longer planting flowers and other plants and are diverting water from outdoor pools to irrigate the grounds. “We’re looking at more serious conservation measures,” Allen said.

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