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Drought: California shaves a dismal 3.6 percent off water use in March

Blue oak trees up to 500 years old thrive in California's drought-scorched foothills. Their rings provide a unique record of drought and wetness for the Golden State
Blue oak trees up to 500 years old thrive in California's drought-scorched foothills. Their rings provide a unique record of drought and wetness for the Golden State
Courtesy of Daniel Griffin

Efforts to conserve water improved somewhat in California in March but were still well below the cuts officials are calling for as the state suffers through its fourth year of drought.

California used just 3.6 percent less water in March than it did the same month in 2013, according to new figures released Tuesday by the state Water Resources Control Board.

This March was unusually warm and dry, but state water officials had been hoping for a bigger reduction given the severity of California's ongoing water shortage. On April 1, Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order calling on California cities to reduce their water use 25 percent by the end of the next February.

On Tuesday, the water board also released data on how well the state's 411 urban water agencies are enforcing existing water rules. Most agencies have restrictions in place that, among other things, limit how often residents can water their lawns. 

According to the water board all but 126 agencies had some limits on lawn watering. In Los Angeles, it's limited to three times a week. The L.A. Department of Water and Power reports it received 1,215 complaints of water waste, issued 1,364 warnings and assessed 13 monetary penalties. 

Still, the March water use numbers are likely to fuel efforts to impose the first statewide mandatory cuts on urban use. The water board is meeting to consider a proposal that seeks to implements the governor's reduction target.

Since  last June, the state as whole has cut water use less than 9 percent -- a far cry from the voluntary 20 percent reduction Gov. Brown called for in January 2014.

The low conservation rate makes the proposed mandatory cutbacks of 25 percent all the more challenging to achieve.

State officials say the cuts are a necessary insurance policy in case the drought continues on into a fifth year.

The reductions, however, don't come without a cost in the short-term. The cutbacks could reduce revenue for the state's urban water agencies by as much as $600 million, according to an analysis by M. Cubed consultants. Water agencies would likely try to recoup those loses by raising water rates on the consumer level.

M. Cubed also found a 25 percent reduction in water use would result in as much as $700 million in lost economic activity. But those costs would be offset, the consultants found, if the drought stretches into a fifth year. 

Water districts varied in their conservation numbers. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power only reduced its March water usage by 5 percent.

Other water agencies even saw increases in water usage. The Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District increased usage by 64 percent. A spokeswoman for the district said that the increase was largely due to an increase in population.

“Here in the Elsinore Valley area, we had approximately 9200 people move into the service area,” said Bonnie Woodrome, a spokeswoman for the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District. “Though the water demand has increased, if you’re looking at gallons per day, per person, it’s remained static.”

The City of Whittier increased its March usage by 22 percent. An official for the city said that month-to-month comparisons are not as useful as examining long-term averages.

“Water usage fluctuates drastically with weather conditions. As you would expect, when it’s hot outside, people will water their yards more to keep their landscapes green,” said David Pelser, director of public works for the City of Whittier.

“We had a hot March,” he said.

You can see a list of the South Coast's water suppliers by supplier below. 

Supplier Name Mandatory Restrictions Hydrologic Region Percent Reduction 2013-2015
Fountain Valley City of Yes South Coast 27%
Newport Beach City of Yes South Coast 26%
Casitas Municipal Water District Yes South Coast 25%
Golden State Water Company Ojai Yes South Coast 21%
Sierra Madre City of Yes South Coast 19%
Lincoln Avenue Water Company Yes South Coast 17%
Valencia Water Company Yes South Coast 15%
Burbank City of Yes South Coast 15%
Castaic Lake Water Agency Santa Clarita Water Division Yes South Coast 15%
Triunfo Sanitation District / Oak Park Water Service Yes South Coast 14%
Vernon City of Yes South Coast 13%
Glendora City of Yes South Coast 13%
Golden State Water Company Simi Valley Yes South Coast 12%
East Valley Water District Yes South Coast 12%
Mesa Water District Yes South Coast 12%
Camrosa Water District Yes South Coast 12%
Covina City of Yes South Coast 12%
Santa Paula City of Yes South Coast 11%
Lomita City of Yes South Coast 11%
Lake Hemet Municipal Water District Yes South Coast 11%
Thousand Oaks City of Yes South Coast 10%
Newhall County Water District Yes South Coast 10%
South Coast Water District Yes South Coast 10%
Santa Fe Springs City of Yes South Coast 10%
Camarillo City of Yes South Coast 9%
El Toro Water District Yes South Coast 9%
Cerritos City of Yes South Coast 9%
Compton City of Yes South Coast 9%
Golden State Water Company Norwalk Yes South Coast 9%
Golden State Water Company Claremont Yes South Coast 8%
Ventura County Waterworks District No. 8 Yes South Coast 8%
San Fernando City of Yes South Coast 8%
Golden State Water Company Placentia Yes South Coast 8%
San Buenaventura City of Yes South Coast 7%
San Jacinto City of Yes South Coast 7%
Port Hueneme City of Yes South Coast 7%
Oxnard City of Yes South Coast 7%
Golden State Water Company S Arcadia Yes South Coast 6%
Golden State Water Company West Orange Yes South Coast 6%
Arcadia City of Yes South Coast 6%
Azusa City of Yes South Coast 6%
Huntington Park City of Yes South Coast 6%
West Valley Water District Yes South Coast 5%
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Yes South Coast 5%
Sweetwater Authority Yes South Coast 5%
El Segundo City of Yes South Coast 5%
Monrovia City of Yes South Coast 5%
Golden State Water Company Culver City Yes South Coast 5%
Big Bear City Community Services District Yes South Coast 5%
San Gabriel County Water District Yes South Coast 5%
Vallecitos Water District Yes South Coast 5%
City of Big Bear Lake, Dept of Water & Power Yes South Coast 5%
Pasadena City of Yes South Coast 5%
Walnut Valley Water District Yes South Coast 4%
Jurupa Community Service District Yes South Coast 4%
Montebello Land and Water Company Yes South Coast 4%
Upland City of Yes South Coast 4%
California Water Service Company Hermosa/Redondo Yes South Coast 4%
Suburban Water Systems San Jose Hills Yes South Coast 4%
East Orange County Water District Yes South Coast 4%
Bellflower-Somerset Mutual Water Company Yes South Coast 4%
Beverly Hills City of Yes South Coast 4%
Santa Monica City of Yes South Coast 4%
Fillmore City of No South Coast 4%
Glendale City of Yes South Coast 4%
Golden State Water Company Southwest Yes South Coast 4%
Golden State Water Company Artesia Yes South Coast 3%
Crescenta Valley Water District Yes South Coast 3%
California Water Service Company East Los Angeles Yes South Coast 3%
San Bernardino County Service Area 70 Yes South Coast 3%
Golden State Water Company Florence Graham Yes South Coast 3%
Serrano Water District Yes South Coast 3%
Carlsbad Municipal Water District Yes South Coast 3%
Inglewood City of Yes South Coast 3%
Monte Vista Water District Yes South Coast 3%
Golden State Water Company Bell-Bell Gardens Yes South Coast 3%
Suburban Water Systems Whittier/La Mirada Yes South Coast 3%
Yorba Linda Water District Yes South Coast 2%
Long Beach City of Yes South Coast 2%
Huntington Beach City of Yes South Coast 2%
Golden State Water Company S San Gabriel Yes South Coast 2%
Orchard Dale Water District Yes South Coast 2%
Riverside Highland Water Company Yes South Coast 2%
Cucamonga Valley Water District Yes South Coast 2%
Ontario City of Yes South Coast 2%
Golden State Water Company Cowan Heights Yes South Coast 2%
Tustin City of Yes South Coast 2%
Helix Water District Yes South Coast 2%
La Palma City of Yes South Coast 1%
Pico Water District Yes South Coast 1%
Rincon Del Diablo Municipal Water District Yes South Coast 1%
Pomona City of Yes South Coast 1%
Valley Water Company Yes South Coast 1%
Colton, City of Yes South Coast 1%
South Pasadena City of Yes South Coast 1%
Rubio Canyon Land and Water Association Yes South Coast 0%
Orange City of Yes South Coast 0%
Chino City of Yes South Coast 0%
Sunny Slope Water Company No South Coast 0%
Santa Margarita Water District Yes South Coast 0%
Anaheim City of Yes South Coast 0%
Eastern Municipal Water District Yes South Coast -1%
Las Virgenes Municipal Water District Yes South Coast -1%
Yucaipa Valley Water District Yes South Coast -1%
Alhambra City of Yes South Coast -1%
Escondido City of Yes South Coast -1%
California Water Service Company Palos Verdes Yes South Coast -1%
Manhattan Beach City of Yes South Coast -1%
San Juan Capistrano City of Yes South Coast -1%
Lee Lake Water District No South Coast -1%
Poway City of Yes South Coast -2%
Norwalk City of Yes South Coast -2%
Santa Ana City of Yes South Coast -2%
Ramona Municipal Water District Yes South Coast -2%
Rubidoux Community Service District Yes South Coast -2%
South Gate City of Yes South Coast -2%
Beaumont-Cherry Valley Water District Yes South Coast -3%
Golden State Water Company San Dimas Yes South Coast -3%
Monterey Park City of No South Coast -3%
Vista Irrigation District Yes South Coast -3%
San Bernardino City of Yes South Coast -3%
Riverside City of Yes South Coast -3%
Oceanside City of Yes South Coast -3%
San Gabriel Valley Fontana Water Company Yes South Coast -3%
Rialto City of Yes South Coast -3%
Moulton Niguel Water District Yes South Coast -3%
Otay Water District Yes South Coast -3%
Perris, City of Yes South Coast -3%
Downey City of Yes South Coast -3%
Hawthorne City of Yes South Coast -3%
Laguna Beach County Water District Yes South Coast -3%
La Verne City of Yes South Coast -4%
Padre Dam Municipal Water District Yes South Coast -4%
Hemet City of Yes South Coast -4%
Santa Fe Irrigation District Yes South Coast -4%
San Diego City of Yes South Coast -4%
Olivenhain Municipal Water District Yes South Coast -4%
Park Water Company Yes South Coast -5%
Pico Rivera City of Yes South Coast -5%
Western Municipal Water District of Riverside Yes South Coast -5%
Westminster City of Yes South Coast -5%
Los Angeles County Public Works Waterworks District 29 Yes South Coast -5%
San Clemente City of Yes South Coast -6%
Lynwood City of Yes South Coast -6%
Loma Linda City of * Yes South Coast -6%
Fullerton City of Yes South Coast -6%
California-American Water Ventura District Yes South Coast -7%
Redlands City of Yes South Coast -7%
Valley Center Municipal Water District Yes South Coast -7%
California-American Water Company San Diego District Yes South Coast -7%
Lakewood City of Yes South Coast -7%
Buena Park City of Yes South Coast -7%
California-American Water Company Los Angeles District Yes South Coast -7%
San Gabriel Valley Water Company Yes South Coast -8%
Rowland Water District Yes South Coast -8%
Garden Grove City of Yes South Coast -8%
Seal Beach City of Yes South Coast -10%
Lakeside Water District Yes South Coast -10%
Norco City of Yes South Coast -10%
Paramount City of Yes South Coast -10%
Irvine Ranch Water District No South Coast -11%
San Dieguito Water District Yes South Coast -12%
Rainbow Municipal Water District Yes South Coast -13%
Rancho California Water District Yes South Coast -14%
Brea City of Yes South Coast -17%
Fallbrook Public Utility District Yes South Coast -18%
Trabuco Canyon Water District Yes South Coast -21%
Sanger City of   South Coast -22%
Whittier City of No South Coast -22%
California Water Service Company Dominguez Yes South Coast -24%
La Habra City of Public Works Yes South Coast -29%
California Water Service Company Westlake Yes South Coast -36%
Chino Hills City of Yes South Coast -40%
Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District Yes South Coast -64%

For the full list of March water reductions by supplier in California, see the water board's listing.

This story has been updated.