With Water Conservation Lagging, State Regulators Could Return to Mandates

 

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Recent storms have alleviate California's six-year drought but state regulators urge residents to continue to conserve water. Stock photo. 

Statewide water conservation has continued its trend of lagging behind last year’s efforts as numbers released by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) today revealed that California urban water users saved 18.8 percent of the water it used in November compared to the baseline year of 2013, a figure that has been outpaced by 2015 figures for a fourth consecutive month.

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 November’s savings are down from the 19.6 percent mark seen in October but slightly higher than the savings seen statewide in September (18.3 percent) and August (17.7 percent). In 2015, August (27 percent), September (26.2 percent), October (22.3 percent) and November (20.2 percent) all showed a greater amount of savings statewide.

The figures were released one day after surveyors measuring snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains—they account for nearly 60 percent of the state’s water supply—found that snow levels were just over 50 percent of average for this time of year. A separate electronic measurement taking the range as whole put that figure at 70 percent of normal.


 

The board’s chair, Felicia Marcus, said that an uncertain future is a good reason for Californians to continue to save and praised the savings increases seen in the northern part of the state but added that the state’s water supply can’t be taken for granted anymore.

“With climate change already creating water supply challenges that will only get worse and state population projected to exceed 40 million in 2020, we all need to become more efficient with our limited water supplies year in and year out,” Marcus said. “Increased water efficiency coupled with new storage, recycling, stormwater capture and other measures is going to make us more resilient over the long term.”

Mandatory water conservation targets were lifted in June of last year, over one year after Governor Jerry Brown stood atop a dry mountain side and declared a statewide water emergency and imposed a 25 percent cumulative reduction in urban water use. From June 2015 through November 2016 the state has saved about 22.6 percent of the water it used versus what it consumed in 2013.

Long Beach, like much of the state, has seen its conservation marks drop compared to 2015 when the mandate was in place. With the exception of November, slight increase of (0.9 percent improvement) conservation in Long Beach has dipped since June, falling behind its 2015 conservation patterns by 4.2 percent each month, according to SWRCB figures.


 

However, the city has still been able to compile a 13.8 percent cumulative savings, surpassing the nine percent conservation target that was previously imposed on Long Beach and still ranked near the top of the state in residential daily gallons per capita for November at 58.8 gallons. The statewide average was 76.6 gallons.

"Long Beach is doing an incredible job saving water. An exciting fact is we use less water now than we did going back in the 1950s - that’s despite a 40 percent increase in our population," said Kaylee Weatherly, assistant to the general manager at the Long Beach Water Department. "That’s impressive proof we are collectively creating a water-wise future for Long Beach." 

She added that while the department certainly welcomes the rainy weather that the region has witnessed in the past few weeks that it recognizes that the dryer climate is the "new normal". Weatherly said that the rain provides a good opportunity for customers to turn their sprinklers off and let Mother Nature do the work and pointed to the department's Lawn-to-Garden program as a cost-frinedly way to adjust their landscaping to a more drought tolerant set-up. She re-iterated that with the "new normal" the weather outside shouldn't dictate conservation patterns by customers. 

"We want residents and businesses to understand they don’t need to know the weather to know whether or not to conserve," Weatherly said. "Maintaining a water efficient lifestyle will always be necessary."

While much of the state has seen marked improvements in terms of areas continuing to be plagued by a drought now in its sixth year, Southern California continues to be among the regions most affected. According to the United States Drought Monitor, a conglomeration of government and public institutions, Los Angeles County is among the 18 percent of the state still in the worst stage of drought.

The SWRCB is expected to present a staff proposal on extending emergency conservation regulations later this month that could include a return to state mandated conservation targets like the ones levied by Brown in 2015 if dry weather returns or conservation rates continue to slip. The proposal will be heard at the board’s January 18 meeting and will be open to public discussion but likely won’t be voted on until February at the earliest.

[Editors note: the story has been updated to include the comments from the Long Beach Water Department.]

 



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