Environment & Science

Water use ticks up again across California

Water drips from a faucet at the Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) residential recycled water fill station in Pleasanton, California.
Water drips from a faucet at the Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) residential recycled water fill station in Pleasanton, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Listen to story

Download this story 0MB

This year, urban water use has settled into a pattern: Californians are consuming more water than in 2015 and 2016, when mandatory measures were in place to cut down on use during a five-year drought.

At the same time, water use has remained below the levels reported in 2013 and 2014, cheering water regulators who hope to make conservation a habit.

July 2017 numbers were released Wednesday by the State Water Resources Control Board, and they fit this pattern for the fifth month running.

Californians used on average nearly 120 gallons per person a day in July, which was one of the hottest Julys in recorded history. Water use typically spikes during the summer months, and hotter weather can push consumption up.

Hydrologic Region July 2016 gallons July 2017 gallons Change from 2016
Central Coast 82.6 88.3 6.9 %
Colorado River 179.6 212.9 18.5 %
North Coast 82.8 89.2 7.7 %
North Lahontan 142.8 151.1 5.8 %
Sacramento River 186.8 201.6 7.9 %
San Francisco Bay 81.3 87.5 7.6 %
San Joaquin River 150 159.4 6.3 %
South Coast 101.4 105.7 4.2 %
South Lahontan 159.7 169.3 6.0 %
Tulare Lake 190.4 199.7 4.9 %
Statewide 113.4 119.8 5.6 %

Data shows residential water use as reported to SWRCB

Residents of the South Coast area — which includes coastal areas from Los Angeles to San Diego — used about 4 percent more water than in 2016. But in the Colorado River region, which includes much of dry, inland Southern California, water use was at more than 200 gallons a day per person, a jump of 18.5 percent.

Increases were seen across the state, and no hydrologic region reported less per capita use this year than in 2016.

Steven Moore, vice chair for the state Water Resources Control Board, said that July has been a benchmark for water conservation in recent years. He was encouraged by the numbers, which continue to track well below those from four years ago.

But Moore expressed concern that there are many places in the state where water use has been creeping up during the summer months.

INTERACTIVE: Explore California's water use using KPCC's tool

"These are areas sometimes with hundreds of thousands of people," Moore said at a water board meeting on Wednsday. "And they need to take heed to the lessons learned during the drought, and prepare for the next one."

California's five-year drought was declared over by Governor Jerry Brown in April this year, but some prohibitions — like hosing down sidewalks or watering after it rains — remain in place.

Water districts are required to report their water use to the state through November 25 of this year, but regulators say they hope to extend the reporting beyond then.