Environment & Science

California hits highest water conservation levels yet

Californians reduced their water usage by nearly 29 percent in May.
Californians reduced their water usage by nearly 29 percent in May.
Alice Walton/KPCC

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Californians reduced their May water usage by 28.9 percent.  The drop marks the greatest increase in month-to-month savings since Governor Jerry Brown called for residents to conserve water, according to data released by the state water board on Wednesday.

The increase in savings comes one month before the June reporting period, when mandatory conservation measures begin. Statewide, Californians must decrease their water use by 25 percent.

Officials were heartened by the May savings, saying they reflect an increased effort by the public to conserve.

"The numbers tell us that more Californians are stepping up to help make their communities more water secure, which is welcome news in the face of this dire drought," said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus in a press release. "That said, we need all Californians to step up--and keep it up--as if we don’t know when it will rain and snow again, because we don’t.  If the drought continues beyond this year, we’ll all be glad we did."

In April, Governor Brown issued an executive order requiring mandatory conservation for the first time in state history. The State Water Board adopted an emergency regulation in May that required an immediate 25 percent reduction in overall potable water use.

Beginning in June, water agencies will be required to reduce their usage from 2013 levels by individualized targets, ranging between eight and 36 percent.

Cooler weather may have helped the state achieve the May water savings. Average May temperatures statewide this year were 3.1 degrees cooler than in May 2013. The state also received nearly a quarter-inch more precipitation this May than in the comparison month. 

Climate was even more helpful in the South Coast region, where average temperatures were 4.9 degrees cooler in May 2015 than in May 2013. Precipitation in the region also increased by .44 inches.

Water reductions were seen in the vast majority of the state, but savings in the South Coast Hydrologic Region helped boost the statewide average. The region, which serves more than half of the state’s population, reduced its May water usage by 25.7 percent. In April, it had reduced usage by 8.9 percent.

Still, not all areas of the region saw reductions in usage. Casitas Municipal Water District in Ventura County provided preliminary reports that water usage increased by 26 percent during May.

A spokesman for the company said the reason for the increase was farmers in his district are running low on groundwater and turing to municipal supplies to make up for it.

“We have more agriculture demand because of the well issue. In 2013, the groundwater was more plentiful,” said Ron Merckling, public affairs resource manager for the Casitas Municipal Water District.

Merckling said that the district is hoping for an exemption that would allow the water it delivers to agriculture to be removed from water usage calculations. He said estimates of usage among residential customers showed a decline of 25 percent for May.

“The majority of our customers are using very little water and could compete with anybody else in the state on gallons per capita per day,” Merckling said. “To be pejorative against our district, which has a majority of people using very little water, doesn’t seem very fair.” 

This story has been updated.