Drought's over? Not in Southern California
Californians are continuing to use more water, state drought regulators said Tuesday, with residents of Folsom and Granite Bay among those who’ve ramped up their consumption the most.
The State Water Resources Control Board announced that urban consumption grew by 8 percent in September compared with a year ago. It was the fourth straight month of higher consumption now that strict conservation mandates have been relaxed. Water districts used about 170 billion gallons of water, an increase of 13 billion gallons compared with September 2015, the agency said.
In its announcement, the state board pointed to six urban agencies that experienced “sharp reductions in conservation,” including two in Greater Sacramento – the city of Folsom and the San Juan Water District. Folsom’s usage rose 25 percent in September compared with a year ago. Consumption in the San Juan district, which includes Granite Bay, grew by 29 percent. By contrast, consumption in the city of Sacramento grew by 8 percent, matching the statewide average.
Californians managed to conserve 18.3 percent in September compared with 2013, the baseline established by state officials. But a year ago, when statewide conservation regulations were in place, the savings rate was a more robust 26.2 percent.
“Overall, we’re happy to see millions of Californians and many water agencies continue significant conservation,” said board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus in a prepared statement. “Conversely, we’re concerned to see some agencies return to using hundreds of gallons per person per day while saving little. … We need to keep conserving.”
Last year, urban districts were under orders to cut consumption by an average of 25 percent compared with 2013. After a fairly rainy winter in Northern California, the state opted for a “stress test” system that abandoned mandatory conservation for districts that could show they had enough water to withstand three more years of drought. Consumption has risen every month since the new system took effect in June.
The Natural Resources Defense Council called on the agency to go back to last year’s mandatory system. “The state board has failed the people of California by letting water agencies off the hook for mandatory conservation,” said Tracy Quinn, NRDC senior water policy analyst, in a prepared statement.
San Juan’s customers have consistently been among the heaviest per-capita water users in the state, due in part to comparatively large lot sizes in the district. Officials with the district were among the most vocal critics in California of the mandatory conservation regime.
Even though consumption has increased, San Juan officials said customers are still working to save water. Usage fell by 10 percent in September as measured by the 2013 baseline, thanks in part to rebate programs that reward customers for upgrading their irrigation systems and installing efficient water heaters and washing machines, said customer service manager Lisa Brown.
“When called, they do their part,” she said of San Juan’s customers.
Folsom’s water resources director, Marcus Yasutake, said it’s been hard to preach conservation in a community where residents saw Folsom Lake “spilling water in March.” Nonetheless, he said residents are still knuckling down and saving water, even if the conservation rate slipped in September. Overall conservation hit 15 percent the first nine months of the year when compared with the 2013 baseline, he said.
“I’m very comfortable with what our residents are doing, what our businesses are doing,” he said.
The state board has said it will continue to monitor the situation throughout the winter and would impose new mandates if necessary. The board noted that Senate Bill 814, which takes effect Jan. 1, requires urban agencies to establish financial penalties for excess water use during droughts.
The state’s report came one day after the Sacramento area wrapped up the fourth wettest October in recorded history, with 4.41 inches of rain. But state officials were quick to caution that a rainy October doesn’t necessarily mean the drought is coming to an end.
“The early rains are very welcome and we’ll take every drop we can safely handle,” Marcus said. “Considering that the majority of precipitation typically occurs between January and April in any given water year, we are still in early innings and have a long way to go before we know whether we’ll make another significant dent in the drought.”