Californians slipped a bit on their water conservation efforts in August, but they’re still beating the governor’s 25 percent mandate imposed in May.
Collectively, urban water users cut water consumption 27 percent in August, down from 31 percent achieved in July. Officials at the State Water Resources Control Board attributed the decline to hotter weather during August, but were pleased with the results nevertheless.
It marks the third straight month that Californians have beaten the 25 percent requirement.
“I’ve been watching over the past year as the golden hues are taking over green across the state,” Felicia Marcus, chair of the water board, said in regard to residential lawn watering. “Californians are showing they have what it takes to meet our water-saving goals. We’re all learning what we can do – and what we can do without.”
Out of 411 large urban water suppliers across the state, 291 met or exceeded the conservation targets imposed on them by the state water board. Out of those, 173 exceeded their target by 5 percent or more.
“If you want to write success stories, there are many to choose from,” said Max Gomberg, climate and conservation manager at the water board.
Among the standouts were the cities of Morgan Hill, El Monte and Lakewood, which vastly exceeded their targets.
The rest fell short, including 54 water agencies – serving a total of about 3 million people – that were between 5 and 15 percent behind.
Examples include cities like Pasadena and Redlands, which have been consistently well behind their conservation targets and have not been able to respond significantly to urgings by the water board.
Only six water suppliers, serving about 139,000 people, were more than 15 percent away from their goals.
The state has so far issued eight “conservation orders” to water providers that are more than 15 percentage points away from their water-saving target, and more are likely forthcoming. The orders detail a series of additional steps the agencies must take to meet their requirement.
If these actions fail to yield results, the water agencies could be fined $500 for each day they violate their conservation requirement, which varies by agency depending on individual factors of historic water consumption. No fines have been issued yet.
“We will issue some fines and that is definitely on the table,” said Max Gomberg, climate and conservation manager at the water board. “But again, we want to get them as close as possible, and simply issuing fines isn’t going to necessarily do that. Our goal is to work with the communities that have been issued conservation orders.”
The job will get more difficult when cooler temperatures arrive, because the most attainable water savings are achieved by cutting back on landscaping irrigation. Thus, as fall arrives, water agencies will be measured against a smaller total water conservation number from prior years.
Under the conservation order, agencies will be measured on their average water savings through February 2016. That means water agencies that have already fallen behind have even more ground to make up in the months ahead.
“Catching up, at this point, is going to be a tremendous challenge,” Gomberg said. “It will require really significant efforts on the part of their residents and businesses.”
At the same time, officials urged Californians not to cheat their trees out of water. Protecting trees in landscaped areas is important, they said, because trees provide crucial shade and habitat and they help clean up air pollution. In many cases, they also represent a decades-long investment in urban scenery and quality of life.
Marcus recommended occasional deep watering of trees, not just at the trunk, but within the larger area of ground encompassed by a tree’s leaf canopy.
“The trees are worth that effort,” Marcus said. “The last thing we want to do is lose our trees.”
There are an additional 1,000-plus smaller water agencies subject to slightly different conservation rules.
These agencies – those that serve fewer than 3,000 connections or deliver less than 3,000 acre-feet of water per year – must either require customers to cut outdoor irrigation to no more than 2 days/week, or reduce by 25 percent their total potable water production compared to 2013. They will be required to report their progress to the water board by December 15.
Top image: Raymond Aleman is at his drought resistant garden in the Studio City neighborhood in Los Angeles Wednesday, May 27, 2015. Aleman removed his lawn to plant the drought-tolerant plants and received a $5,000 rebate from his water provider. (Damian Dovarganes, Associated)