Californians stepped up their water conservation in October, a move made easier by a massive storm that dumped record rain in some parts of the state but still wasn’t enough to combat the drought.
Collectively, people reduced their water use by 13.2% compared to last October, a major jump from prior months when water conservation lagged. Still, total water usage is down just 6% since July compared to the same period last year, far short of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 15% goal.
The calls for voluntary conservation follow one California’s driest years on record and what’s feared to be another dry winter as the state remains gripped by drought.
“The important part here is to continue to prepare for worst-case scenario,” said E. Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board.
Most of the state’s reservoirs are still well below historic averages. That prompted the state’s Department of Water Resources to tell water districts last week they likely won’t be getting any of the supply they’ve requested from the state for 2022 except what’s necessary for health and safety.
Newsom, a Democrat, has avoided mandatory statewide water restrictions but his administration has urged local water districts to bolster supplies. Next month, the state water board may prohibit certain “wasteful” actions such as outdoor watering during storms.
In October, the storm and cooler weather reduced how much water was being used for outdoor activities, which can account for up to 80% of all use, said Charlotte Ely, who presented the conservation numbers to the board.
“There is still a lot of work to do to reach the governor’s call for 15% savings from that 2020 baseline, but we’re making better progress,” she said.
The storm, a powerful atmospheric river, drenched California in the final days of October. More than 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) of rain fell in Sacramento over a 24-hour period, breaking an 1880 record for the most rainfall in a single day.
Northern California, which saw the most rain from the storm, had the greatest reduction last month compared to October 2020, dropping by as much as 22%, while the southern region that includes Los Angeles and San Diego dropped by about 12% in October compared to last year, according to state officials.
Many of the state’s urban water suppliers are urging conservation through public education and restrictions such as limiting outdoor watering and requiring hoses to have shut-off nozzles, Ely said. About 17% of urban water suppliers have told state regulators they’ve taken no actions to encourage conservation, she said.