California residents reduced their water use 27 percent in June, beating a state-mandated target during the crucial first month of summer, according to figures released Thursday by the State Water Resources Control Board.
The result followed a strong May in which Californians reduced consumption 29 percent. By contrast, conservation hit just 14 percent in April and 4 percent in March, leading some critics to initially question whether Californians would meet Gov. Jerry Brown’s conservation mandate.
Californians must cumulatively reduce water use at least 25 percent between June and February compared with the same months in 2013, under rules adopted by the water board in response to the drought. June was the first month when conservation will count toward that target.
Cities and agencies must cut usage by varying amounts based on how much water they typically use. The state ordered most Sacramento-area water agencies to cut usage between 28 and 36 percent. The region’s residents responded in June by cutting usage by roughly 35 percent.
Conservation during the summer months is critical because so much water is typically used as temperatures rise and Californians rely on sprinkler systems to maintain their lawns. The June figures show that the newly brown lawns seen across the state are making a difference in water consumption.
“The June numbers tell a story of conscious conservation,” said Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board. “We do need to keep it up. ... The greatest opportunity to save water is outdoor landscaping, and outdoor water use is heaviest during the summer.”
About two-thirds of the state’s largest water agencies met or exceeded conservation targets set by the state.
Even so, 16 water agencies statewide, out of more than 400, missed their conservation target by at least 15 percentage points. Nearly all of them were in Central or Southern California. The worst offender, state figures show, was the small Central Valley town of Livingston. The state ordered it to reduce water use 32 percent, but its residents only managed a 3 percent usage reduction during June.
Other water agencies that missed their target by at least 15 percentage points included the Coachella Valley Water District, which serves about 320,000 customers in the southern desert; the Rancho California Water District, which serves 168,000 customers in southern Riverside County; and California Water Service – Dominguez, which serves about 142,000 customers near Los Angeles. Only one agency in Northern California, the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District in Eureka, missed its target by at least 15 percentage points.
Water board officials will meet with leaders at those 16 water agencies over the next few weeks. State officials said they likely will issue enforcement orders to many of them detailing specific steps the agencies must implement, such as decreasing the number of days when lawn watering is allowed. Failure to comply with those orders could result in penalties of up to $500 a day.
The state also has the option of issuing cease-and-desist orders that eventually can carry fines up to $10,000 a day. But, said Max Gomberg, the water board’s climate and conservation manager, “our goal is compliance, not fines.”
An additional 71 water agencies and cities missed their targets by 5 to 15 percentage points. Many of those agencies will receive an informational order essentially telling them to step up their game, consider implementing new conservation measures or risk further scrutiny, Gomberg said. About 53 suppliers that missed their targets by 1 to 5 percentage points will receive letters saying they need to improve.
California’s urban water customers used about 60 billion fewer gallons of water in June 2015 as they did in June 2013, state figures show.
Across California, the Bay Area cut water use 32 percent, besting Los Angeles, San Diego and the rest of the South Coast region, which cut use 23 percent.
The Sacramento region achieved greater conservation savings than any other area in the state. All but two of the 23 large water agencies in the Sacramento area hit conservation targets, state figures show.
The city of Sacramento posted savings of 34.5 percent, well above its 28 percent target. Elk Grove saved 40.5 percent, and West Sacramento had a savings of 40.2 percent. Roseville clocked in at 39.1 percent.
The city of Sacramento has aggressively issued warnings and fines, but most suburban Sacramento districts said they’ve succeeded by taking a softer approach.
“If people are watering on their off day, we leave them a notice, we talk to them,” said Joe Duran, conservation coordinator at the Orange Vale Water Co., where savings hit 41.3 percent in June.
At the San Juan Water District, whose customers cut consumption 45.2 percent, face-to-face contact has paid dividends, said Assistant General Manager Keith Durkin. San Juan contacted 57 customers who were unusually heavy water users. Some 45 of them, it turned out, had leaks somewhere in their plumbing or irrigation systems.
“Those kinds of things add up,” Durkin said.
Durkin said San Juan’s savings probably will reach 43 percent for July.
The Fair Oaks Water District, which cut water use 40.3 percent in June, believes its July conservation will top 40 percent as well.
“Our approach is a collaborative one,” said Fair Oaks General Manager Tom Gray. The district’s employees visited the homes of all 16,000 customers earlier this summer, talking to customers or leaving materials on how to best conserve water.
Gomberg, the water board official, singled out the city of Roseville as an example of an agency that is doing a good job conserving water. He noted that Roseville residents used less than 100 gallons of water per person per day in June, a better performance than several coastal cities with smaller lawns and cooler climates. “This is really impressive for the hot Central Valley,” Gomberg said.
Two area agencies barely missed their conservation goals, according to the state’s figures. Sacramento Suburban Water’s customers cut consumption by 30.5 percent, just short of the agency’s 32 percent mandate. The agency’s general manager wasn’t immediately available for comment. Rio Linda-Elverta Community Water District customers cut usage by 35.5 percent, a little shy of the agency's 36 percent mandate.
California urban water use down from 2013 levels
Change from 2013 usage
June conservation in California’s largest water agencies
June Water Savings
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
East Bay Municipal Utility District
San Francisco Bay
San Jose Water Company
San Francisco Bay
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
San Francisco Bay
Eastern Municipal Water District
Irvine Ranch Water District