After months of failing to conserve water, Californians are finally starting to make meaningful progress as the state’s three-year drought worsens, summer heats up and local agencies increase rules and penalties for water wasters.
New figures released Tuesday showed that statewide, urban California residents reduced their water use by 7.6% in June compared to June 2020, the baseline year.
This is still below the 15% target that Governor Gavin Newsom set for himself last July. But that’s a huge jump from savings of 3.1% in May over May 2020. And it’s a major change from March and April, when residents turned on lawn sprinklers for a spring exceptionally dry, actually increasing water use by 18.7% statewide and 17.8% from these months two years ago.
“The numbers are an improvement to say the least,” said Joaquin Esquivel, president of the National Water Resources Control Board, which released the monthly data on Tuesday. “In March and April we saw increased usage, and here in June we’re starting to see a real response.”
Northern California continued to move closer to Newsom’s goal, with the Bay Area saving 12.6% in June compared to June 2020 — the largest economy of any region in California — while the region of the South Coast, which includes Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties, reduced by 5.9%.
In the Bay Area, the Marin Municipal Utility District reduced its water use by 25.3% while San Jose Water Company users reduced theirs by 17.5%, followed by the San Jose Water District. Santa Clara Valley (15%), Alameda County Water District (13.2%). , the East Bay Municipal Utility District (12.2%), the Contra Costa Water District (11.2%) and the San Francisco PUC (5.7%).
Local water agencies said on Tuesday that any water saved now would be useful if the drought drags into a fourth year.
“Our residents and businesses are conscious of their water usage, fixing leaks and swapping their lawns for drought-tolerant gardens,” said Doug Linney, chairman of the East Bay Municipal Utility District board of directors, who provides water to 1.5 million people. in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. “These actions lead to long-term savings, which prepare us in case next year is dry, and help us respond to a changing climate before our eyes.”
On May 23, Newsom told leaders of the state’s largest water agencies that the conservation backlog was a “black eye” as the state grapples with shrinking reservoirs and the disappearance of underground waters.
At the time, he said his office would monitor the situation over the next 60 days and he told agencies to step up outreach and education efforts to communicate the urgency of the crisis to the public. A few weeks later, the state water department demanded that most cities and water districts limit outdoor watering to two days a week and prohibit irrigation of “non-functioning turf” or grass in office parks and industrial sites, but not in schools, parks or golf courses.
Esquivel said these measures are behind some of the improved conservation numbers now.
Newsom again met with local water agency leaders across the state on Friday. Since its request for voluntary savings of 15% a year ago, the state has a cumulative way to go, having reduced urban water use in the past year by just 2.7 %.
So far, Newsom hasn’t told the water board to move to mandatory statewide targets with fines for agencies that fall short, like the governor did. Jerry Brown in 2015 during the state’s last drought. But he continues to meet with local water officials and monitors closely, Esquivel said.
“He’s keeping all of those options open,” Esquivel said. “The options are on the table. We are going in the right direction. »
Many water agencies oppose mandatory state targets. Some say they have sufficient local supplies, having made major investments in new reservoirs, groundwater projects or, in the case of San Diego, which used 4.1% more water in June than ‘in 2020, the construction of a desalination plant.
Meanwhile, light rains that sporadically wet the Bay Area and much of Northern California on Monday may have helped reduce the fire risk for a few days, but that didn’t help. drought damage. Most places received a hundredth of an inch of measurable precipitation – about the thickness of two sheets of paper – if any.
After three straight dry years, 97% of the state was in severe drought Thursday and 59% in extreme drought, the third and fourth most severe of five drought categories, according to the US Drought Monitor, a weekly federal report. .
The state’s largest reservoir, Shasta, near Redding, was only 37% full on Tuesday. Its second largest, Oroville in Butte County, was 41% full.
Some urban residents complain about conservation since agriculture is responsible for 80% of the water used by Californians. But Esquivel said when local areas save, they often preserve local supplies in reservoirs and groundwater banks. And he noted that farmers have seen significant reductions in water use this year with near-zero deliveries from the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, and new state rules limiting how much they can divert. streams and rivers.
“Ag gets his hair cut like everyone else,” he said. “This is a society-wide challenge that we face with climate change and these droughts. We have never seen such conditions.
California Water Conservation
Water consumption of the main branches in June, compared to June 2020:
• Santa Clara Valley Water District: -15% • San Jose Water Company: -17.5% • East Bay Municipal Utilities District: -12.2% • Contra Costa Water District : -11.2%• San Francisco PUC: -5.7%• Alameda County Water District: -13.2%• Marin Municipal Utility District: -25.3%• City of Sacramento: – 11.3%• Los Angeles Department of Water and Electricity: -7.5%• City of San Diego: +4.1%