California officials appeared disappointed in the news that urban water conservation efforts statewide continue to recede in a year where commercial growers had no choice but to make draconian cuts to irrigation schedules.
Now is not the time to relax on water-saving measures, according to California Water Board Chairperson Felicia Marcus.
“Recent rains are no reason to let up on our conservation efforts,” said Marcus. “It will take many sustained storms to get us out of this horrible drought.”
Year over year monthly residential water savings statewide dropped from 10.3 percent in September, to 6.7 percent in October. Still, residents used less water in October compared to September.
In short, water users were conserving less, even as the drought continued.
Water board staff told board members recently that users may be growing “fatigued” by conservation efforts and are simply not working as hard to save water. Other reasons for the slacking in conservation efforts may simply be due to the reduced water use more typical through the autumn months, the report said.
In the most recent survey of nearly 400 urban water retailers, the State Water Resources Control Board learned that while residential water use per person continues to decline this year, the rate at which water conservation has been occurring in each community compared to water use last year declined for the second straight month.
The decline in year over year monthly savings raises questions about whether efforts are slacking off or whether it is just that residents tend to use less water as the weather cools. Nonetheless, the numbers prompted concern that state residents won’t be prepared if California faces a fourth year of drought conditions in 2015.
Not all California residents were ambivalent to calls for water conservation, according to a state report.
Urban success stories
At 47 percent, the City of Grover Beach on the Central Coast saw the greatest reduction in residential per-capita water use in October when compared to the same month last year.
Other notable conservation efforts lauded by the state water board for per-capita residential reductions in October were: Redwood City at 38 percent; Dublin San Ramon Services District 32 percent; Sonoma, 30 percent; Davis, 23 percent; Santa Maria, 22 percent; and, Alameda County Water District (Bay Area) and Sacramento each at 20 percent.
While not all areas of the state were under mandatory reductions, California’s agricultural community was by default, because of state and federal irrigation water deliveries that were either 5 percent (state water project) or 0 percent for the federal Central Valley Project.
Those deliveries forced groundwater pumping on unsustainable levels as many wells around the state went dry this summer.
According to the state board, 91 percent of urban water suppliers have mandatory outdoor water restrictions in place.
“Heading into 2015, our reservoirs remain at historic lows and our snowpack is a fraction of what we need, so the stakes are even higher than this time last year,” Marcus said. “We’ll hope for sustained rain and snow, especially snow, but have to plan as if it will be another dry year – until it’s not. Every drop saved today will be a treasure later if it doesn’t rain enough.”
According to state figures, urban water users continue to present the lowest demand for allocated (surface) water at roughly 10 percent, whereas the environment has seen its allocated water consumption jump to 50 percent of the total surface supply, according to state figures. That is water, according to the California Farm Water Coalition, that is unavailable for any other use.
Farm use of surface water supplies is a little over 40 percent of the state’s allocated supply during a normal season, according to the Department of Water Resources.