Environment & Science

Drought-plagued Californians are still too thirsty

File: The exposed dam wall and water intakes of the San Luis reservoir which is at only 21 percent capacity as a severe drought continues to affect California on Sept. 23, 2014.
File: The exposed dam wall and water intakes of the San Luis reservoir which is at only 21 percent capacity as a severe drought continues to affect California on Sept. 23, 2014.
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

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Residents of drought-plagued California fell just short of the state's mandated water conservation target over the nine months that ended in February as they let lawns turn brown, flushed toilets less often and took other strict measures, officials said Monday.

Residents statewide used 23.9 percent less water over those nine months compared to the same months in 2013.

The savings were shy of the 25 percent water cuts that Gov. Jerry Brown ordered last year for users in cities and towns.

INTERACTIVE: Look up water savings at districts around the state

Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, called it an "enormous effort" in saving water, despite the missed target.

"Californians rose to the occasion, reducing irrigation, fixing leaks, taking shorter showers and saving our precious water resources in all sorts of ways," she said.

Californians saved just 12 percent in the month of February — less than half the target ordered by Brown.

February was the final month of reporting under the governor's 25 percent savings mandate. Californians will now be required to use at least 20 percent less water.

The state is now in the fifth year of drought, even though an El Nino weather system delivered a near-average year of rain and snow in some parts of the state.

State officials say that might impact the outcome of a workshop planned later this month to consider the best approach for conservation.

Key reservoirs in Northern California are brimming after El Nino storms drenched the region. However, Southern California saw relatively little precipitation, leaving most of its reservoirs low.

By April 1 — typically the end of California's rain and snow season — the state was left with a nearly average snowpack and few hopes of more significant storms.

"We need people to keep saving," Marcus said.

Putting water savings in context

Just how much water have Californians saved over the last several months?

As reported by the Water Board, the state saved 1.19 million acre feet, compared to the same months in 2013. But the target was 1.24 million acre feet, meaning residents feel a little short.

That little difference is a lot of water: around 17 billion gallons, or enough water to fill more than 26,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Some areas of the state reported stronger savings in February than others. The South Coast region, which includes Los Angeles and San Diego and represents more than half of the water users covered by the Governor's mandate, brought up the rear with savings of just 6.9% in February. Other regions managed to reach double digits.

Nevertheless, even the disappointing February numbers showed districts improving upon previous years. Residents of 84 percent of the 395 districts that reported both months used less water per capita in February 2016 than they did in February 2015.

And 90% of districts reported using fewer gallons of water in February 2016 compared to February 2013.


Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the period of time that California residents used 23.9 percent less water during. KPCC regrets the error.

This story has been updated.