California is taking tough steps to ration water amid a megadrought so severe that even ancient trees haven't experienced anything as bad before. On Wednesday, more than 6 million people in Southern California were placed under unprecedented restrictions cutting outdoor watering days to one or two a week, the Los Angeles Times reports. In Los Angeles, residents will be assigned watering days based on their addresses and limited to eight minutes per day—or a maximum of 15 if they have water-conserving sprinkler nozzles. Authorities say patrols will be stepped up and repeat violators will be fined.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California declared a water shortage emergency in April, CBS News reports. "Metropolitan has never before employed this type of restriction on outdoor water use. But we are facing unprecedented reductions in our Northern California supplies, and we have to respond with unprecedented measures," said general manager Adel Hagekhalil. "We're adapting to climate change in real time." The district notes a full outdoor watering ban could be introduced as soon as September if conditions worsen. Authorities say exceptions will be made for hand-watered trees.
Almost the entire state is now under drought conditions classed as severe, extreme, or exceptional. Researchers say the megadrought, which has caused dry conditions in the West over the last 20 years, is the most intense in at least 1,200 years, which is as far back as their tree ring data goes—and the conditions could persists for years, CNBC reports. Many residents have already abandoned green lawns for more drought-tolerant landscaping. Authorities are also urging Californians to take shorter showers. (Researchers say that without climate change, the Western megadrought would have ended years ago.)