California water woes: California Cities Water Use April

Published: June 3, 2015

California water woes: California Cities Water Use April, Californians are using less water, but they’ll have to conserve a lot more to achieve the mandatory cuts taking effect this month, according to the latest numbers released Tuesday.

That’s the second-best conservation achievement since state officials started closely tracking water use more than a year ago, but falls short of the 25 percent cuts Gov. Jerry Brown made mandatory for cities and towns as of June

“Local communities are stepping up in a way they weren’t before, and I’m hoping that’s why we are starting to see the uptick” in conservation, said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the state Water Resources Control Board.

“The real challenge is, we really have to step it up for the summer months,” Marcus said. “If we miss the summer, we are toast.”

April’s still-lackluster overall achievement reported by the roughly 400 water agencies in the state could raise concerns about whether Californians have fully acknowledged the drought’s severity.

This year’s Sierra Nevada snowpack, which feeds the state’s rivers, was the lowest on record – a grim image that served as Brown’s backdrop when he announced unprecedented conservation measures on April 1.

“When they saw the governor out on that dry meadow and saw what was in his executive order, and realized it was really time to step up, they really started to step up,” said board scientist Max Gomberg, who is overseeing conservation.

April’s best conservers included Santa Rosa, a city of 170,000 north of San Francisco, which reported a 32 percent drop compared to 2013. The city offered a host of programs to achieve this, paying residents to reduce 52 football fields’ worth of lawn and giving away 50,000 low-flush toilets since 2007.

Saved water “is the cheapest water you can find,” said David Guhin, water director for Santa Rosa. “It’s gotten to where lawns are uncool.”

Cool or no, many communities are still falling far short.

“Fifty-thousand toilets? Really? We don’t have that kind of money,” said Alan Tandy, city manager of Bakerfield, where water use actually increased by 1 percent in the latest state count.

Besides offering some modest rebate programs for water conservation, the working-class city of farms and oil rigs was finding it “difficult to get the word out to everybody” about saving, Tandy said.

The Southern California coast, a region including Los Angeles and San Diego, cut just 9 percent in April, compared to a 20 percent reduction in the San Francisco Bay Area and 24 percent in the Sacramento area.

Among cities of 40,000 or more, the steepest reduction in the state, 45 percent, was reported by the water company serving Livermore. The worst was Escondido, reporting a 20 percent increase.

Water districts missing their targets face potential fines of up to $10,000 a day once June numbers are in, although a far more likely outcome will be state-ordered changes in local regulations, like tougher limits on lawn-watering.

Each community was assigned a reduction target, with some ordered to cut back as much as 36 percent.

Water waste also is being tracked, and the board could penalize local agencies that don’t crack down. Only a tenth of water departments reported penalizing their customers for water waste.

The shift to mandatory conservation followed lackluster savings through a voluntary effort, with water use slipping just 3 percent in February and 4 percent in March compared to the same months in 2013.

And while suppliers of treated water closely monitor and report on their customers’ usage each month, most farmers self-report consumption long after their crops have been grown and harvested.

But as more wells and streams run dry, California’s farmers are expected to increase by a third the fields they fallow this year. The drought’s impact on agriculture alone will cost California $500 million more than last year, for a total economic hit of $2.7 billion in 2015, according to a study released Tuesday by the University of California at Davis.

Roughly 200 farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta east of San Francisco submitted plans by Tuesday’s deadline for reducing water use by 25 percent to avoid deeper cuts. State officials are still figuring out how much water could be saved with these deals, but state delta water master Michael George said he expects “significant conservation.”


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