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Californians may soon be facing mandatory water restrictions

The governor said these restrictions may be put in place in late September. Californians are already being asked to voluntarily conserve water by 15%.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — California's current voluntary water restrictions may soon become mandatory. 

Governor Gavin Newsom said this week that statewide restrictions may be imposed in late September, roughly two weeks after the September 14 recall election.

In San Diego County, residents and businesses have managed to cut their water use by half since the early 1990s. While our region as a whole has done a strong job saving water, a historic drought continues to intensify throughout California and the western United States. 

"We're experiencing, once again, the intensity of another year of drought," Governor Newsom said as he toured Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

While no specifics were given, Newsom's announcement comes more than a month after the governor called on Californians to voluntarily cut back their water consumption by 15%.

"We're not here as a nanny state and not trying to here be oppressive," Newsom said last month as he unveiled his request for Californians to conserve. "Again, these are voluntary standards."

However, as in the previous drought, those voluntary standards may soon become required.

During the previous drought, Governor Jerry Brown initially mandated a 25% reduction in water use: restrictions that were enforced by fines.

"We are ready: we have been preparing," said Jeff Stephenson, water resources manager with the San Diego County Water Authority, which is supporting a targeted, county-by-county approach to addressing California's water crisis.

It is encouraging the state to use a so-called "stress test"  to determine whether mandatory restrictions are needed at the local level.

"And then once you could show that you had sufficient water supplies through this 'stress test' as they called it, you were able to essentially get out of any kind of mandatory water restrictions," Stephenson told News 8. 

That was the case here during the last drought. 

"We were able to get it basically down to zero percent requirement, and then we were out of those restrictions," Stephenson added. 

Stephenson expects San Diego would be prepared to pass a similar test now, based on our region's reliable water supplies, including San Diego's decreasing reliance on water over the past decades. Stephenson is urging San Diegans to keep up the conservation.

"We need to save water all the time. It needs to become a habit," said Pam Meisner, an educator at the Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon, where she's known to thousands of San Diego's kids as "Ms. Smarty Plants," delivering a serious message on saving water, from cutting down on the time we spend in the shower to inspecting your outdoor irrigation system.

"Make sure you are not watering your cement," she warned. "Make sure you are not over-watering."

For more tips on how you can save water, click here

Here is the San Diego County Water Authority's complete statement in response to the possibility of mandatory water restrictions in the near future: 

"Many communities across California face critical conditions with regards to water supplies, and the Water Authority continues to support a targeted approach to addressing these challenges. A targeted approach allows for consideration of unique and diverse water supply challenges and local solutions to address the needs of each individual agency.

 We also encourage the state to use a “stress test” to determine whether and where mandatory cutbacks are needed at a local level, and to rely on local plans that include both demand reduction and supply augmentation in response to water shortages. In San Diego County, we continue to have reliable supplies due to long-term investments and permanent water use reductions by the region’s ratepayers.

 We are watching and monitoring developments closely and will update residents and businesses as details become clear. As for the potential impact of water-use mandates on the San Diego region, it’s too early to comment. In the meantime, what’s most important is that everyone continue to use water wisely and eliminate water waste. Our region has done a great job of using less water, and we need to keep it up. Those collective actions taken by 3.3 million people in San Diego County will help us prepare for future dry years. Tips and rebates and other resources are at www.watersmartsd.org."

WATCH RELATED: Gov. Newsom asks Californians to voluntarily cut water use amid deepening drought conditions - July 2021