Weaker Water Conservation Prompts Fears California Is Returning to Old Habits

Californians’ water conservation slipped for the third consecutive month in August, prompting new alarm from regulators about whether relaxed water restrictions may be causing residents to revert to old habits as the state enters its sixth year of severe drought.

Sprinklers water the front lawn of a house on Zelzah Avenue in Encino earlier this year. (Credit: Michael Owen Baker/Los Angeles Times)

Sprinklers water the front lawn of a house on Zelzah Avenue in Encino earlier this year. (Credit: Michael Owen Baker/Los Angeles Times)

The trend raises new questions about Californians’ willingness to continue austere conservation after spending the last two years dramatically reducing their water use by ripping out lawns, installing water-sipping appliances and shortening their showers.

Conservation numbers varied widely across the state, with some places actually saving more water compared with 2015 levels. But other communities are turning the spigot back on, and state data show that several of the worst offenders are the affluent cities that previously have been criticized for heavy consumption.

Regulators on Wednesday singled out Malibu as one example of a city returning to profligate water use. The water district that serves the city saw its water-savings drop from 20.4 percent in August 2015 to just 7.9 percent in August 2016. The 22,000 residents served by the district used about 300 gallons per person per day, according to state data. By contrast, Los Angeles residents used an average of only 84 gallons per day in August.

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