Environment & Science

CA cuts water use 13.5 percent in April; LA drops 10 percent

California’s urban water agencies cut their use 13.5 percent in April, according to new data released by the State Water Resources Control Board.
California’s urban water agencies cut their use 13.5 percent in April, according to new data released by the State Water Resources Control Board.
Photo by James Kirkus-Lamont via Flick Creative Common

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With the help of a wetter and cooler month than two years ago, California’s urban water agencies cut their use 13.5 percent in April this year, according to new data released by the State Water Resources Control Board. 

That’s an improvement over the three previous months’ efforts at saving water. But regulators characterize cumulative savings by city dwellers at just 9 percent during the first 11 months of tracking urban use, less than halfway to the governor’s conservation goal.

In May, regulators approved a tiered system of mandatory cuts for urban water agencies, ranging from 8 to 36 percent. Now local agencies are scrambling to figure out how to achieve that savings. The state’s goal for water use is 55 gallons per person per day indoors, leaving outdoor watering for landscape the largest conservation target as the warmer summer months approach.  

In April, the South Coast region — which includes much of coastal Southern California and San Diego County — saved 8.7 percent compared to its used two years ago during the same month, slightly less than the state average. Some regional highlights: 

The city of Los Angeles saved 10 percent, with an average of 75 gallons used per person per day. Long Beach saved 6 percent compared to two years earlier, but averaged 65 gallons a person a day.

Water use went up sharply in Chino Hills (10 percent), Norwalk (21 percent), and El Segundo, which saw a 35 percent increase in water use compared to two years ago.

Malibu saved no water compared to two years ago, somewhat alone among the heaviest users in the South Coast region. The Los Angeles County Public Works Waterworks District 29, which encompasses Malibu, reported a daily average of 193 gallons per person per day.

Regulators acknowledged ongoing challenges in analyzing data, 11 months into mandatory water use reporting. More than half of water suppliers have revised the data on water use they’ve submitted to the state, which in some cases could change the  percentage by which they are required to reduce under new rules that took effect Monday. 

"The mandatory component is what caused a lot of general managers to look carefully at what they were sending in,” said board member Fran Spivy-Weber. “Before, when it was voluntary, they didn’t think it mattered as much.”

Southern California water agencies collectively issued 97 penalties for excessive water use in April, based on nearly 10,000 complaints received. Half of those penalties came in San Diego, where officials have begun skipping warnings and sending out violation letters instead, then issuing penalties for violations that are not corrected quickly. Los Angeles has issued 27 penalties so far in 2015

The city of Pico Rivera is covered by two water districts that went in different directions in April. The Pico Water District, which serves more than 25,000 people, was able to reduce use by 11 percent. Meanwhile, the Pico Rivera Public Works Department, which provides water to roughly 39,000 residents, saw use rise by 5 percent.

James Enriquez, directs the public works department. He told KPCC he wasn’t sure why his agency saw an increase.

“Our billing system doesn’t provide that level of detail,” he said.

He said Pico Rivera has had a variety of watering restrictions in place since 2009. They include limits on when to water and for how long. Cars can only be washed with hoses with shut-off nozzles. There are also prohibitions against allowing water to run off into the street and hosing down paved surfaces.

Enriquez said those restrictions have already yielded water savings in his town, and the increase in April could mean residents are finding it difficult to cut back more.

“We might not see that much, because we already have a lot of those measures permanently in effect,” he said.

Despite the April increase, Enriquez said his customers have cut overall water use 4 percent since the beginning of the year.

Still, he said there is room to do more. His department is planning to recommend instituting no more than twice-a-week watering and no irrigating within 48 hours after measurable rainfall.

Eight miles away, the city of Paramount saw increase water use of two percent in April. Christopher Cash is the director of Paramount Public Works Department.

He said residents in the town of 55,000 have also taken steps to cut water use.

“Our average single family lot is about 3,000 square feet, where in most communities it’s about five thousand square feet. So you know we don’t have a lot of large yards and large landscape areas in which people can cut back from,” he said. “In the case of Paramount, we’re pushing a lot of that and we are seeing some reductions. But again, you’re getting closer to the amount of water that people are using for things other than outdoor irrigation.”

 Under the mandatory water reductions that took effect Monday, Paramount needs to lower water use 12 percent compared to 2013 levels by the end of next February.