Californians are still conserving substantial amounts of water even as Gov. Jerry Brown appears ready to rescind or relax his drought declaration.
The State Water Resources Board announced Tuesday that urban Californians reduced water usage by 25.1 percent in February, compared with the state’s baseline year of 2013.
The February conservation results were substantially better than a year ago, when mandatory restrictions were in place for much of California but the savings rate was only 11.9 percent.
“Even with a banner year for winter precipitation, Californians have continued to practice sensible conservation, with a significant drop in water use in the South Coast,” said board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus in a prepared statement.
The overall savings rate has been 22.5 percent since mandatory conservation took effect in June 2015, even though the state water board significantly relaxed the rules last summer. Under the old rules, municipal water districts had to cut usage by an average of 25 percent compared with 2013; districts with exceptionally heavy water consumption, including most in the Sacramento region, had to slash consumption by as much as 36 percent.
The new system imposes no mandatory conservation on districts that can show they have enough water available to withstand three straight years of drought conditions. The vast majority of the state’s 411 urban districts, including those in Sacramento, said they could meet that test.
One of the wettest winters on record has increased pressure on Brown from local officials to declare the drought over. Frank Gehrke, the state Department of Water Resources official who oversees the Sierra Nevada snowpack survey, said last week the governor could make an announcement about the state of the drought this week.
Gehrke spoke to reporters at Phillips Station, the spot near Echo Summit where he recorded 94 inches of snow, or 183 percent of average. That was the same spot where Gehrke stood next to Brown in April 2015, with the ground completely bare, and Brown issued his mandatory conservation order.
Even if the drought is declared over, the state water board and other agencies are working on a long-term plan to permanently ban practices that are deemed wasteful, such as excessively watering lawns. The plan is called “Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life.”