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Drought Forces Los Angeles To Rely On Water Reserves

Sophia Li |
January 31, 2014 | 12:26 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Water restrictions are increasing for much of California as the drought takes its toll. (Flickr / Stuart Rankin)
Water restrictions are increasing for much of California as the drought takes its toll. (Flickr / Stuart Rankin)

While several parts of California have enacted mandatory water restrictions as a result of the state drought emergency, Angelenos are unlikely to get new restrictions in the next year. 

“Southern California is not in a crisis right now because smart investments have been made in previous years,” said Nancy Vogel, director of public affairs at the California Department of Water Resources. 

Gov. Jerry Brown declared the statewide drought emergency two weeks ago, asking for voluntary water conservation following California's driest year on record. Brown's announcement allows state water officials to manage supply more easily so that farmers and communities are better prepared for water shortages. 

According to Vogel, most water in California is delivered through local water districts, each with its own avenues of supplying water. Water is supplied to about 19 million people in cities from Ventura to San Diego by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), whose two main sources of imported water are the Colorado River and Northern California via the State Water Project. 

Even though both of those sources are facing record dry conditions, the MWD has stated that it has adequate water supplies through 2014 and possibly 2015 as long as people continue to use water sources efficiently. 

Angelenos have been under mandatory water restrictions since 2009, when the City Council passed the Water Conservation Ordinance. Following the ordinance, residents may only water outside three alternating days a week, and there is no watering between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on any day.  

“Conservation will be extremely important,” said MWD media representative Bob Muir. “While we’re avoiding mandatory restrictions, we’re working hard to dramatically decrease demand, and we’ve made significant investments in water reserves.” 

Those investments have included more than $5 billion on storage and infrastructure improvements, and nearly $800 million on water conservation and water recycling.

“Ratepayers did see the cost of water nearly double in the last 12 years, but those investments are paying off today,” Muir said. 

Despite certain claims that Los Angeles has been draining natural resources, it is still unclear how or if the drought was affected by human behavior. 

According to USC environmental science lecturer Lisa Collins, the current drought is being caused by a change in the water off the coast of Alaska from warmer to cooler pools, a phenomenon known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). Collins said she believes the PDO is currently in a cool phase, which drives storms away from California and into the Midwest and Northeast. 

Looking back thousands of years at historical rainfall patterns in Los Angeles and the rest of the Southwest, Collins said it is not uncommon to have droughts that last for several decades.

"Angelenos and all of California should really be better prepared rather than acting 'surprised' when we are in yet another drought," Collins said. "We have diversified our water portfolio [by] getting water from many places, but when the entire western U.S. is in a drought, that doesn't really help." 

Reach Staff Reporter Sophia Li here.



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