Environment & Science

Cooler temps, rainfall help state cut water use 22 percent in December, but that rate of conservation may not last

A wetter, cooler December helped California to cut water use 22% over the same month a year earlier. But water regulators are warning that a drier January may send use back up.
A wetter, cooler December helped California to cut water use 22% over the same month a year earlier. But water regulators are warning that a drier January may send use back up.
Stock photo by J. Michael Darby via Flickr Creative Commons

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State officials say California cities cut water use by more than 22 percent in December over the previous year, meeting for the first time the goal for water savings set by Gov. Jerry Brown when he declared drought last January.

About 56 percent of the state’s population lives in the South Coast Hydrologic Region, which stretches from Ventura down to San Diego and east toward Riverside. South Coast achieved the third-highest conservation totals, and was one of five regions to beat Brown’s goal in December.

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In a presentation Tuesday, staff for the State Water Resources Control Board pointed out that water savings were aided by December’s cool temperatures and abundant rain. Eureka, near key reservoirs in Northern California, saw less than an inch of precipitation in December 2013 but nearly 10 inches in December 2014.

But water officials worry December's conservation gains could be short-lived given the state's bone dry January.  Snowpack readings last month were pitiful, and for the first time in its recorded history, San Francisco reported no January rainfall.

“We hope that people will still keep their outdoor irrigation either off or to a minimum as we move through January and February especially if it starts raining this weekend,” said Eric Oppenheimer, who directs the State Water Board's Office of Research, Planning and Performance. “There’s a chance we could see the outdoor conservation numbers erode.”

Later this month, water regulators will consider renewing, modifying or expanding mandatory conservation rules, which are set to expire in April.