Environment & Science

California drought: Conservation plateaus, as water agencies offer more data to measure use

A sprinkler sprays water on a lawn at Golden Gate Park on January 29, 2014 in San Francisco, California. According to newly released figures, city dwellers in the San Francisco Bay Area average lower daily water use than people living along the South Coast of the state.
A sprinkler sprays water on a lawn at Golden Gate Park on January 29, 2014 in San Francisco, California. According to newly released figures, city dwellers in the San Francisco Bay Area average lower daily water use than people living along the South Coast of the state.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Californians cut water use more than 10 percent in September compared to the same month a year ago, according to new numbers released by state water officials. That's about half what the governor has asked for, and it's the first drop in conservation since the state began mandatory reporting for water use from every local agency. 

For the first time the state released a calculation for how much each resident in each water district uses on a daily basis. It found a wide range in daily use - from 50 gallons a person a day up to 10 times that amount.

The monthly usage data, gathered by the State Water Resources Control Board, reveal that conservation efforts leveled out somewhat after a summer of growing water savings. In Los Angeles, water use dropped just 7.5%  compared to September of 2013. But state officials praised another south coast community, Oxnard, for a 14% reduction over already low water use. The Desert Water Agency in the Palm Springs area also won accolades for cutting consumption 11%.

Californians have anticipated the release of per capita per day numbers because they permit a direct comparison among residential water users, and because they're controversial. Agencies variously say that the calculation is inaccurate because of differing climatic patterns, temperature trends, and data-gathering capabilities around the state. 

The state water board's Max Gomberg reported that the San Francisco Bay region averaged around 85 gallons per person per day, while the South Coast region, which includes San Diego, averaged 119 gallons per person per day for use. In LA the number was 92 gallons per person per day.

Regulators say their goal with these numbers is to keep the issue of how much water Californians save front and center.