Water & Drought

Which Sacramento water agencies risk missing their mandated conservation targets?

Folsom Lake, pictured in early October, has felt the drought as water levels have fallen to historic lows. The city of Folsom, which relies on the reservoir for its water supply, is among several communities in the region that are struggling to meet their state-mandated water conservation targets.
Folsom Lake, pictured in early October, has felt the drought as water levels have fallen to historic lows. The city of Folsom, which relies on the reservoir for its water supply, is among several communities in the region that are struggling to meet their state-mandated water conservation targets. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Several water agencies that together serve hundreds of thousands of Sacramento-area residents risk missing their state-mandated conservation targets this year after a disappointing start to the fall, according to a Sacramento Bee review of state data.

The State Water Resources Control Board this year ordered urban agencies across California to cut water use between June and February in response to the state’s historic drought. Agencies that traditionally were among the biggest per capita users were told to make the deepest cuts. Most Sacramento-area water agencies face mandated cuts of 28 to 36 percent. Failure to meet those targets can result in fines or other penalties, though the state so far has docked only a handful of the most serious offenders.

Nearly all Sacramento-area water agencies started strong, posting water use cuts of more than 30 percent in the summer compared to 2013. They achieved savings largely by telling customers to cut back on outdoor watering, which accounts for the bulk of residential water use in the region. Most water districts restricted outdoor irrigation to two days per week.

But September did not go well for many of those same agencies, particularly Folsom, Davis, Carmichael, Fair Oaks and Rio Linda. The month was hot compared with prior Septembers, and some local residents watered their yards more than is typical that time of year. In addition, reports of a strong El Niño weather pattern were prevalent in September, filling some people with optimism that rain and snowfall this winter could alleviate the drought.

About a dozen Sacramento-area water providers missed their September conservation targets by at least 5 percentage points. As a result, nine water agencies now either fall below their state-mandated targets for June through September or sit less than 2 percentage points above their cumulative targets.

It will be hard for those agencies to make up lost ground, several water officials said. That’s because it’s far easier to cut water use in summer, when savings can be achieved simply by cutting back on outdoor irrigation. Cutting use substantially in winter – when most households have the sprinklers shut off – requires a more conscious effort. Instead, residents must take shorter showers, flush toilets less often, fix leaks, replace inefficient appliances, change dish and clothes washing habits and take myriad other small steps to cut indoor water use.

“The hard part is that as we go into the winter months, we don’t have irrigation,” said Paul Schubert, general manager for Golden State Water Company Cordova, which serves much of Rancho Cordova. His district’s customers missed their conservation target by 7 percentage points in September, and by last month, had fallen below their cumulative target of 36 percent for the year. “I am concerned,” he added.

Some local water agencies, including Schubert’s, have responded by further restricting outdoor watering restrictions to just one day per week and increasing public outreach.

What they mostly haven’t done is fine or penalize water wasters.

Of the 10 water agencies in the region missing or close to missing their cumulative targets, just two issued penalties or fines to customers between June and September, state data show. By comparison, six of the 10 local water agencies with the best cumulative conservation numbers in the region have issued penalties.

“Our goal is to educate the customer to use water,” Schubert said, adding that it would be hard for his district to issue fines because unlike most agencies it is regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission. He said most customers recognize the need to conserve and others likely would not be persuaded by threats. Even so, his district has increased patrols looking for water waste.

Customer Ken Green, who has lived in Rancho Cordova for 30 years, said the district “probably should” start issuing penalties to customers who don’t conserve but added, “I don’t see a lot of people in my neighborhood who are cheating.” While the district is below its target, Golden State Cordova customers still have achieved cumulative savings well above 30 percent this summer.

Davis customers are facing a similar problem. From June through September, they managed to cut water use by about 28 percent. Even so, in September, the city’s residents cut water use by just 18 percent, the lowest amount in the region. Davis officials blamed the lackluster numbers on an influx of students into apartments near campus, hot weather and residents not adjusting their irrigation schedules.

“A greater reduction was needed in September to ensure that Davis can meet the conservation target over the winter months,” said Dawn Calciano, conservation coordinator for the city of Davis.

In response, Davis officials have called on customers to further reduce outdoor watering and redouble their conservation efforts. Its residents managed a 23 percent savings in October, 5 percentage points below the city’s target, Calciano said. (The state has not issued October conservation figures, but some agencies voluntarily shared their October performance with The Bee.)

The El Dorado Irrigation District missed its conservation target by 9 percentage points in September and by 2 percentage points in October, said district spokesman Jesse Saich. That leaves the district, which serves about 120,000 people, nearly even with its 28 percent reduction target for the year. “We are continuing to extend the message to our customers that as fall progresses into winter, we cannot let up on conservation,” Saich said.

The Placer County Water Agency and the city of Folsom both have fallen behind their conservation targets for June through September. The Placer County Water Agency missed its target by 6 percentage points in September. District spokesman Ross Branch said Placer’s customers already were conserving water in September 2013, so comparing that month’s usage to this year’s doesn’t show how far the district has come.

Through September, Folsom missed its cumulative target by about 2 percentage points. In September alone, it missed by 11 percentage points. The city must reduce water use by 32 percent this year. Last winter, its residents barely achieved 10 percent savings compared with 2013, state figures show. Folsom recently sent a mailer to customers telling them about missing September targets and offering suggestions on how they can do more to conserve.

While some local districts are struggling, others are well above their water savings targets for June through September. The California American Sacramento District, which serves parts of Antelope, Rosemont and other suburbs, leads the pack: It must achieve 20 percent water conservation and so far has cut water use by 38 percent. Woodland, West Sacramento, Elk Grove and Roseville each are beating their targets by roughly 10 percentage points. The city of Sacramento is 4 percentage points above its target through September.

It’s unclear whether local cities that miss their targets will face state fines, especially if the shortfall is slight and they can show concrete ways in which they tried to conserve. Asked whether the state will penalize agencies that miss their targets by a percentage point or two, State Water Resources Control Board spokesman George Kostyrko answered, “possible, but not likely.”

“More likely (is) that we will work on compliance measures or issue a compliance order to those who miss their targets by a few percentage points, particularly if those agencies are making a concerted effort,” he said.

Phillip Reese: 916-321-1137, @PhillipHReese

On the bubble

Water cuts by district compared with 2013, led by agencies having the most trouble hitting mandated targets

Name

Conservation Target

September Cuts

June-Sept. Cuts

Folsom

-32%

-21%

-30%

Carmichael Water District

-36%

-26%

-35%

Placer County Water Agency

-32%

-26%

-32%

Rio Linda - Elverta Community Water District

-36%

-24%

-36%

Davis

-28%

-18%

-28%

Fair Oaks Water District

-36%

-25%

-36%

Golden State Water Company Cordova

-36%

-29%

-36%

El Dorado Irrigation District

-28%

-19%

-29%

Orange Vale Water Company

-36%

-27%

-38%

San Juan Water District

-36%

-30%

-39%

Lincoln

-32%

-26%

-35%

Fruitridge Vista Water Company

-36%

-42%

-39%

Sacramento Suburban Water District

-32%

-33%

-35%

Galt

-32%

-30%

-35%

Sacramento

-28%

-27%

-32%

Citrus Heights Water District

-32%

-29%

-38%

Sacramento County Water Agency

-32%

-33%

-38%

Roseville

-28%

-30%

-37%

Elk Grove Water Service

-28%

-31%

-37%

West Sacramento

-28%

-30%

-38%

Woodland

-24%

-29%

-34%

California-American Sacramento District

-20%

-30%

-38%

Source: State Water Resources Control Board

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