Environment & Science

Update: California water savings dip in October

This file photo shows the exposed dam wall and water intakes of the San Luis reservoir in September 2014. The State Water Resources Control Board is expected Tuesday to reveal how much water cities conserved in October 2015.
This file photo shows the exposed dam wall and water intakes of the San Luis reservoir in September 2014. The State Water Resources Control Board is expected Tuesday to reveal how much water cities conserved in October 2015.
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

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Californians posted a 22 percent savings in water use in October, marking the first month residents have missed the state's mandatory 25 percent conservation target since enforcement of the cutbacks began in June, officials said Tuesday. (See water reductions by district)

Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resource Control Board, said she had anticipated the dip in savings because October temperatures were exceptionally warm, driving up the watering of yards.

Still, Marcus said California is meeting its long-term water conservation target. For the five months combined, residents have saved 27 percent.

"I think people have gotten the message," Marcus said.

The mandate to conserve came as California experiences its driest four-year span on record. Gov. Jerry Brown called for the 25 percent reduction compared to the same period of 2013, the year before he declared a drought emergency.

"Look, 22 percent versus 25 — good enough for government work. People of California are doing very well and we've been cutting massively ... Hopefully, we're going to get the rain and things are going to work pretty well," Brown told KPCC's Take Two program.

Marty Adams, senior assistant general manager for the water system at LADWP, told KPCC that he hopes that Angelenos will stop outdoor watering once the area starts getting regular storms.
 
“If we have a cool and wet winter, we shouldn’t have to do any outdoor watering at all, so water conservation should really be key, especially in the rainy weather, because even though we may have a lot of water falling from the sky, it won’t be enough this year to get us through the drought. We know that we’re going to have to conserve, and every time we don’t water this winter, that will be more water that we have for the summertime," Adams said.

October was a rough month for L.A., but Adams said he understood why.

“We have a little concern when we dip below 16 percent, because we want to make sure everyone is continuing to follow the conservation ordinance, but at the same time, we recognize that October was drier and hotter than it was two years ago," Adams said.

The base year L.A. is being compared to was also wetter and cooler than this year, Adams said. He said he's also hoping to avoid further cutbacks in watering at the moment due to the combination of dry weather and Santa Ana winds raising brushfire risks.

The state has reported that California is more than halfway toward its conservation goal for the period ending in February. Statewide cutbacks amounted to 26 percent in September, 27 percent in August, 31 percent in July and 27 percent in June.

In September, state officials for the first time fined four water suppliers for failing to meet their individual conservation targets. Beverly Hills, Indio, Redlands and the Coachella Valley Water District were each fined $61,000. Continued violations could lead to a cease-and-desist order with potential fines of $10,000 a day.

Heather Engel, director of communication and conservation for the Coachella Valley Water District, told KPCC that September was a bad month.

"I think, you know, our September number was only 16 percent, and I think that was more of the anomaly than October. I think our five-month average is about 27 percent, and October was 27.7, so I think that’s right in where we’re averaging," Engel said.

She said she was happy with the 27.7 percent number, as it's higher than the state average. Still, that's below the goal they're going for — 36 percent.

"It’s going to be near impossible for us to reach that 36, but that doesn’t mean we’re not trying," Engel said. "I mean, 27 percent conservation is really nothing, I don’t think, that we should be ashamed of. I think that’s a really good number, and we’re proud of it. Yeah, we recognize that it’s below 36, and we’re trying for 36, but I don’t think 27 is something that necessarily should’ve been fined."

Brown, uncertain if drought-busting storms are coming this winter, recently extended his executive order preparing the state for a fifth year of drought. It allows emergency conservation to continue through October 2016 if dry conditions persist this January.

He took the action despite forecasters predicting a strong El Nino, an ocean-warming phenomenon that can change weather patterns globally and increase chances of heavy rain and snow pelting California.

So far, below-average rain and snowfall have fallen on the northern Sierra Nevada, while the central Sierra has received above average precipitation, said Craig Shoemaker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

It is too early to know what the wet season will ultimately deliver, he said.

"Every El Niño can be a little different," Shoemaker said. "There is a long way to go in this season."

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This story has been updated.