California is experiencing its most dramatic drought on record. It's so dry, extreme conservation measures are being enacted, including restaurants not giving patrons a glass of water unless they explicitly ask for one.
Restaurants in California are encouraged to stop serving water to patrons unless they ask for it. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)
This might also apply to frequent water refills to which Americans have grown accustomed.
“People tend to leave a lot of water on the table, especially when diligent bussers fill their glasses without having to be asked,” Angela Pappas, spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Association, told the industry publication Foodservice Equipment Reports. "The National Restaurant Association points out that if the food service industry didn't automatically serve water to all customers, the industry would potentially save more than 25 million gallons of water annually. If water goes untouched, it is wasted. Serving water to customers only if they ask for it will result in less water wasted and fewer glasses to clean. Also, waiting for a water glass to be empty before refilling it ensures less waste."
The idea of not serving water unless customers request it in order to conserve is not necessarily a novel idea in response to the drought, but restaurants in the state are being encouraged to take an active role doing this now.
"The entire idea of 'auto-items' is a huge generator of waste in North American restaurants, and it is often associated with 'good service,' " Bruce McAdams, an assistant professor at the University of Guelph in Canada, told NPR's The Salt.
The California Restaurant Association also recommended restaurants plan ahead and thaw frozen food items in the refrigerator rather than running water over them, something that it says could say up to 90,000 gallons of water in the state annually. It also encouraged restaurateurs to check their fixture faucets and toilets for leaks.
Restaurants aren't the only ones cutting back during this state of drought emergency. California canceled water deliveries from the state's water system to farms and thirsty cities and shut down fishing in dozens of streams to protect imperiled salmon and steelhead.
In this photo taken Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, a warning buoy sits on the dry, cracked bed of Lake Mendocino near Ukiah, Calif. Despite recent spot rains The reservoir is currently only about 37 percent full. California remains in the midst of an historic drought causing Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency.(AP/Rich Pedroncelli)
Most of the 29 agencies serving the towns and farms that draw from the State Water Project have other, local sources of water. But the total cut-off of state water deliveries this spring and summer could have a national impact because it will affect farms in one of the nation's richest agricultural belts.
In this photo taken Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, a sign outside a market in Willits, Calif., reminds passerby's about about the short water supply facing area residents. In the midst of a historic drought and area reservoirs holding less than a 100-day supply of water, Willits city leaders have banned lawn watering, car washing and mandated all residents to cut water use. (AP/Rich Pedroncelli)
Friday's action comes after Gov. Jerry Brown made an official drought declaration, clearing the way for state and federal agencies to coordinate efforts to preserve water and send it to where it is needed most. The governor urged Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent.
While California sees cycles of drought normally, scientists say the dry weather since Oct. 1 appears to be unique in its severity.
"According to tree ring records, this water year, which began Oct. 1, really stands out as one of the worst single years in the last 500 years," said Lynn Ingram, author of "The West Without Water" and a University of California earth science professor.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.