Environment & Science

California Drought: State cuts water use 11 percent; Los Angeles sees nearly 9 percent drop

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Emergency drought restrictions slapped on urban areas this summer appear to be yielding water savings, California state officials reported Tuesday: Water use among city dwellers in California dropped 11.5 percent in August compared to the same month a year ago, according to the State Water Resources Control Board.

Customers served by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power cut their use by 8.8 percent in August — a savings of 1.5 billion gallons, or enough to supply more than 12,000 average California households for a year. 

Max Gomberg, an environmental policy analyst for the state water board, said he was encouraged by L.A.'s reductions. "It's not double digits but it's not 5 [percent] and below. It's good progress, and we need it continue," he said. 

On the whole, the state's consumers are failing to cut their water use by 20 percent as Gov. Jerry Brown requested when he declared a drought emergency in January. But urban water consumption has been dropping steadily over the past three months. Cities cut a combined 7.5 percent in July and 4.3 percent in June.

In July, the state water board ordered water districts with at least 3,000 customers to enact mandatory water restrictions on outdoor water use. Violators face fines starting at $500. 

Sacramento-area water providers reported the greatest conservation gains in August, with nearly half reporting more than 20 percent reductions over the previous year. State officials in particular highlighted conservation efforts in the City of Long Beach. That city consumed 6.8 percent less water below an already stingy baseline set the year before.

"Their general manager, Kevin Wattier, has really done a fantastic job of making conservation a constant priority for that agency," Gromberg said. "They had higher rebates for turf removal long before other agencies in California followed suit. And they've done a great job at messaging to their customers about the need to conserve."

More than 400 urban water districts — serving 33.5 million customers — have instituted mandatory outdoor watering restrictions, and state officials said more agencies had limits on the way. Gomberg says just 11 public water providers statewide failed to report their consumption data — some are in Southern California, and the state plans to follow up with all of them. 

State officials also said Southern California’s primary water provider – the Metropolitan Water District – has so far spent more than $5 million in the current fiscal year on rebate programs to get consumers to use less water. The efforts range from payments to remove turf grass to rebates for water-efficient toilets and appliances.  MWD plans to spend more than $36 million on similar programs by the end of next summer.

September was the final month during which water providers can report only what are called production numbers. Beginning in October, water providers also will report to the state the average gallons consumed per person per day.