Drought: June report cards anticipated for urban water use; are we conserving enough?

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On Thursday, state water regulators will make public how much water city dwellers used in June, offering the first glimpse about how Californians are responding to the state’s mandate to cut water use by a quarter from last year, or face penalties.

The State Water Resources Control Board has given cities nine months, starting in June, to cut water use to assigned reduction targets. Based on conservation efforts and prior use, thirsty cities must cut their use as much as 36 percent, while cities who use less water must reduce by 4 percent.

The state has been tracking water use in cities since last summer, but the June use numbers are the first ones that will count toward those targets.

INTERACTIVE: Where is California water use decreasing? 

Residential water use dropped 29 percent in May, as compared to the same month two years earlier. But even as officials cheered those results, they warned that wet May weather may have made it easier for users to turn off sprinklers more often. June might pose a more difficult test. 

Here’s what to watch for in June's numbers:

  • What the largest city in the state does matters to the overall goal. Los Angeles officials say their calculations show a 16 percent drop for June, keeping the city on track for its reduction target. But if Angelenos waver, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is readying rules that would limit watering for outdoor landscaping to two days a week. Those rules would require city council approval.
  • Other major cities say they’re on track, too. Long Beach, San Diego and San Francisco also have calculated their June numbers, and have offered praise for their residents ahead of the data release.
  • Even conservation stars have to show progress during the hottest, driest months the state’s tracking. Rancho Dominguez, served by the Park Water Company, must cut its use just 8 percent. But they’ve got smaller margins to play with. Residents there have steadily decreased their water use since last year, from 62 gallons a person a day last June, to 42 gallons a person a day last month.
  • Drought shaming opportunities abound. Well-known wealthier communities with high use include La Canada-Flintridge, Malibu, and Palos Verdes. But they’re not alone. Two years ago in the Orange County community of Cowan Heights, residential water use averaged 581 gallons a person a day. The Golden State Water Company, which serves the area, says use has dropped; last June, use was at 441 gallons a person a day. But KPCC’s analysis shows that Cowan residents used 162 percent more water compared to the rest of the state, and they’ve got a 36 percent conservation target.
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