Diego Mendoza
Diego Mendoza
Mar 15, 2023, 7:13am EDT
net zero

How countries across the world are limiting people’s water usage to deal with droughts

Watering plants
Jonathan Kemper/Unsplash

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The News

Nevada lawmakers are considering a "worst-case scenario" bill that would give the Las Vegas water agency the power to restrict single-family residential water use if the region's water supply dips below sustainable levels.

Officials emphasized that the new regulations are aimed only at the top 10% of water users who currently use up about 40% of water in the residential sector. Currently, the average family single-family residence uses about 130,000 gallons per year, and if enacted, the water agency would cap water use at 160,000 gallons per year.

The proposal is similar to measures other global cities have enacted to deal with water shortages, from discouraging flushing to banning plant watering.

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The View From South Africa

Following years of little rainfall, South African officials in 2018 warned of an impeding "day zero" in Cape Town — the day city water levels would fall so low that the government would be forced to cut off all supply and ration water to the public.

But the crisis was averted after the implementation of strict water limitation policies, coupled with city-wide camaraderie, over a 7-month period. Residents were told to limit showers to two minutes, and businesses encouraged patrons to only flush if absolutely necessary using the slogan, "If it's yellow, let it mellow," according to the World Economic Forum.


The local government did enact some restrictions, such as banning filling swimming pools, washing cars, and running fountains. There were also strict quotas on how much water the agricultural sector could use.

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The View From The United Kingdom

Throughout historical heat waves in the U.K. last year, which also coincided with a drought, the government implemented so called "hose pipe" bans, which restricted people from things like watering plants, filling paddling pools, or washing cars.

Parts of the country have kept their bans in place since last year, but officials are warning that more regions may soon need to implement another round of water restrictions after experiencing the driest February in 30 years.

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The View From Catalonia

Spain's Catalonia region announced new water restrictions that began last month, saying the local government needs to act now to prevent more hardship from a drought that has lasted more than two years.

The new regulations will be implemented in 224 municipalities and impact about 6 million people, according to newspaper El Pais. Residents' water usage will be capped at using 230 liters per day, and agricultural companies will need to reduce their water consumption by 40%. Other activities, like cleaning streets with drinking water, will be prohibited for the time being.

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The View From Uruguay

The Uruguayan government last month announced a series of restrictions on personal water use for eight regions, including the capital of Montevideo, due to a drought that began in 2018.

The government said that "there is no defined end date for this resolution," but that officials would reassess the situation once reservoirs and streams reached sustainable levels.

There is no official limit on how much water households can use, but residents can now be fined for using water for non-essential reasons like cleaning sidewalks, gardening, washing cars, or filling swimming pools, according to a government notice.

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Room for Disagreement

A 2020 study in Canada found that permanent water cuts may not be as effective in curtailing water shortages.

While water use restrictions could address short-term imbalances between supply and demand during hot and dry periods, the study found that that the efficacy of long-term cuts did not extend beyond its use in emergency situations.

The study noted that there is still room for further research on the matter, but the results could help understand how governments can effectively keep water reserves up while not significantly impacting the daily lives of residents.