The coming months will pose challenging water conditions for California.  The Drought Monitor data dated June 7 puts 98 percent of the state in severe drought.  Drought has become commonplace for the state in the past 22 years, earning the moniker “megadrought,” which signifies dry conditions lasting two decades or more.

The past three years have seen an escalation of the dry conditions, the worst on record.  After a promising start to the wet season in December with record breaking snow totals in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the first four months of 2022 saw the lowest precipitation on record for California according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.  This is disheartening news as the early part of the year typically brings half of the state’s annual precipitation.  As the state heads into its dry season, Southern California is imposing restrictions with the hope of extending water supplies, an action not previously taken.

A series of events has led SoCal to this point.  In March, with reservoir levels greatly diminished and with little snowpack to recharge them, the State Water Project, a water storage and delivery system that brings water from the northern to the southern part of the state, reduced allocations from 15 percent to 5 percent of normal amounts.  That action then prompted the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California to declare a water shortage emergency in April, imposing restrictions on outdoor watering that went into effect June 1 for 6 million residents dependent on water from the State Water Project in the counties of Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Bernardino.  Most of these areas will see outdoor watering limited to only one day per week, the intent being to curtail water use by 35 percent and conserve as much as possible, stretching available supplies through the coming dry months. Given that nearly half of all water used in urban areas goes to outdoor watering, regulating this practice is deemed the most effective way to achieve this reduction goal.[1]

Low water supplies also impact power generation, and the Energy Department has warned that the reduced water levels in reservoirs could cut hydroelectric power output in half leading many to be concerned about the risk of blackouts this summer.[2]

So far, Governor Gavin Newsom has not imposed mandatory restrictions.  His approach to date has been to allow local water agencies to take the lead in establishing rules for water use and to call for voluntary reductions of 15 percent by residents. The voluntary reductions have not met that goal, and March of this year showed a disappointing increase in water usage of 19 percent compared to March 2020.  The concern that drought fatigue has come into play when just entering the difficult months may drive Newsom to change his approach. 


[1] Newburger, Emma. “Sweeping Water Restrictions Begin in Southern California as Drought Worsens.” CNBC, CNBC, 1 June 2022,

[2] Ivanova, Irina. “California Is Rationing Water amid Its Worst Drought in 1,200 Years.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 2 June 2022,