The pretty, cloudless blue skies over perfectly manicured lawns represent an ugly reality for California’s Las Virgenes Municipal Water District as it grapples with the historic megadrought ravaging the American West.
Despite a lack of any measurable rain in months, the carpet of lush, green grass likely means homeowners are either not getting the message about the dire need for water conservation, or they are ignoring the warnings.
But now, the water district has found a way to get customers’ attention. When customer service representatives are working in the different neighborhoods, they keep an eye out for any water restriction violations. And for repeat offenders, officials are trying something new: adding water restrictors to the pipes, which sharply reduce the home’s water supply.
Lawns of the rich and famous
The District covers some of the most sought-after real estate in Southern California, northwest of Hollywood and Beverly Hills, including areas along the Ventura Freeway.
Las Virgenes imports all of its water from the State Water Project, which pipes runoff from the northern Sierra Nevada mountains to Southern California. However, at the end of winter, the snowpack was just 4% of normal, forcing unprecedented restrictions. Las Virgenes is only getting 5% of its requested water supplies this year.
“We’re having to supplement the water that we have been getting from the State Water Project,” said Mike McNutt, public affairs and communications manager for Las Virgenes, who added the district is pulling water from its Las Virgenes Reservoir, its stash for emergency needs, just south of Thousand Oaks.
Right now, McNutt confirmed it is 72% full; at full capacity, it is a six-month supply. “We’ve had to take significant measures to curb water usage in order for us to ensure that there’s long-term water reliability meaning moving into the fall and winter,” McNutt noted.
Nearly all of California is in severe or worse drought (the highest three designations), per the latest US Drought monitor. Several severely deficient years of rain and snow have punctuated a 20-year long megadrought scientists say is being fueled by warmer and drier conditions brought on by climate change.
When the grass being greener isn’t a good thing
In light of the shortage and the prolonged drought, Las Virgenes has mandated residents cut their outdoor watering by half as required by the unprecedented order from its distributor, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Outdoor watering makes up 70% of most customer’s water usage, the water district says, so cutting down on irrigation can have a huge impact on conservation.
“They are only allowed to water one day a week outside, Tuesdays and Thursdays, depending on whether your address ends with an odd number or even number,” McNutt explained. On top of that, each set of sprinklers can only be on for eight minutes. “It helps maybe keep some of the grass alive if people want to still continue to have lawns, but they are brown.”