California misses monthly water conservation target

Californians’ failure to meet water-conservation goals in October marked the first misstep in the effort to curb water use since mandatory standards went into effect.
Californians’ failure to meet water-conservation goals in October marked the first misstep in the effort to curb water use since mandatory standards went into effect. Sacramento Bee file

Californians failed to meet monthly water conservation targets in October, the first miss since mandatory standards went into effect in June, state officials said Tuesday. Officials said, however, they think the state still can meet its goal of cutting consumption by a cumulative 25 percent through February.

The report from the State Water Resources Control Board came hours before the state delivered another jolting reminder of the enduring severity of the four-year drought. Despite forecasts of El Niño conditions this winter and heavy precipitation, the Department of Water Resources said it expects to deliver just 10 percent of normal supplies to State Water Project customers in 2016. The project delivers water to urban and rural agencies, mostly south of the Delta.

The October conservation numbers indicated that urban residents across the state struggled to meet their mandated cutbacks as summer turned to fall. In its monthly report, the water board said Californians cut water usage by 22 percent in October, compared with 2013. Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered residents to cut consumption by an average of 25 percent between June and next February in response to the drought.

Including the October figures, residents have cut water use by 27 percent since June, or 2 percentage points better than the governor’s order.

One reason conservation efforts ebbed in October: It was surprisingly warm, and some residents may have felt compelled to continue watering their landscapes.

“While it’s lower than the 25 percent we’d like to see ... we are still on track at meeting and exceeding the governor’s savings goal,” said Katheryn Landau, of the water board’s Office of Research, Planning and Performance.

Water board officials noted that it can be harder to save water in winter than summer. That’s because most summer water use goes toward outdoor irrigation, so cutting use dramatically can be as simple as turning off the sprinklers. In winter, more conservation is required indoors by taking a number of small measures.

“Keeping the 25 percent savings is going to get harder,” said water board chair Felicia Marcus. “When I saw the 22 percent, I was relieved. ... It could have been a lot worse.”

Conservation targets vary from district to district, depending on historical consumption patterns. Nineteen of the Sacramento region’s 23 largest water districts missed their October conservation targets. The worst miss was at the Fruitridge Vista Water Company. Its customers cut use by just 7 percent in October; its target was 36 percent.

Nine of the region’s districts also are not meeting their cumulative water conservation goals, though none are off by much. Folsom is missing the mark by the largest amount – 3 percentage points.

State officials also announced that the city of Beverly Hills has paid its $61,000 fine, assessed last month, for consistently missing conservation targets. Fines are pending against three other Southern California water agencies.

Regardless of how wet this winter gets, state officials say they’re likely to extend the urban cutbacks through next October, although they could be refined.

The stubbornness of the drought was driven home in another way Tuesday. The Department of Water Resources, in its preliminary outlook for 2016, said it expects to ship just 10 percent of normal supplies to State Water Project customers next year. That’s half as much as this year.

The figure could change as winter precipitation arrives. But it was still unsettling news to some customers.

“We would have, of course, liked more,” said Gary Kremen, chair of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, adding that a 10 percent allocation likely would mean tough conservation measures next year. “Who says the drought is over? That’s not how we are seeing it.”

The state project is one of two man-made systems that deliver water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the southern half of the state. The other system, the federal government’s Central Valley Project, is delivering no water at all this year to most of its customers, for the second year in a row.

Phillip Reese: 916-321-1137, @PhillipHReese

Water use

The five agencies that did the best and worst in October at meeting water-savings targets.

Best-performing water agencies

Savings target

Usage decrease

Westborough Water District



Grover Beach



Dublin San Ramon Services District



Calif. Water Service Co. Antelope Valley



Marina Coast Water District



Worst-performing water agencies

Savings target

Usage increase




Big Bear Lake



West Kern Water District



El Segundo



Big Bear City Comm. Services District



Source: California Water Resources Control Board