Amid Call for Conservation, Water Use Increases by 2.3 Percent in SoCal

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A file photo shows sprinklers watering the lawn in Golden Gate Park on April 2, 2015 in San Francisco. (Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Amid the worst drought on record, Californians’ water conservation levels dropped to a “dismal” rate, with Southern Californians actually increasing their usage, figures released Tuesday showed.

The data, for the month of February, is the most recent available. It shows water consumption was reduced by just 2.8 percent statewide, compared to 2013 levels, down from an 8 percent conservation rate in January and a peak of 22.1 percent in December.

Statewide data for February 2015, released on April 7, 2015, revealed a drop in water conservation. (Credit: State Water Resources Control Board)
Statewide data for February 2015, released on April 7, 2015, revealed a drop in water conservation. (Credit: State Water Resources Control Board)

The South Coast region was the worst across the state, with February water use actually increasing 2.3 percent compared to 2013 levels.

The February monthly figure, presented by state staff to theState Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento, is the lowest since the board  began tracking conservation data in July 2014, amid California’s ongoing and severe drought.

“Obviously these are sobering … and disheartening statistics, considering how hard we’ve been working on this,” board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said in a conference call with reporters.

The state is now in its fourth year of the drought, and last week Gov. Jerry Brown announced mandatory water-use cuts of 25 percent in urban areas for the first time in California history, among other emergency drought measures that were part of an executive order.

The water board will determine how the state’s more than 400 local water agencies will be tasked with achieving the 25 percent goal, with those communities who have done little to conserve being subject to the harshest cutbacks.

A framework for how those reductions will be implemented was set to be released later Tuesday. The board was expected to vote on the regulations on May 5 or May 6.

The order was announced as the state water agency said that snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains — the source of nearly a third of the state’s fresh water supply — was at 5 percent of average, by far the lowest in 75 years of measurements.

On Tuesday, Marcus said the poor February conservation data provided support for the governor’s actions.

“I know many communities in the state stepped up since last summer and dramatically conserved water. But not enough communities in the state have saved enough water,” Marcus said in a news release from the water board. “Beginning today, to assure their own water security as well as help others, communities should restrict outdoor irrigation to the bare minimum.”

The increase in water use in the South Coast region, which includes the greater Los Angeles and San Diego areas, had a major impact on the statewide decline in conservation. The region accounts for 56 percent of residential water use statewide.

A comparatively warmer February, economic growth and tourism were being blamed for the uptick in use in the South Coast region, water board senior staff scientist Max Gomberg said.

The data released Tuesday included residential water use per person. That figure showed an uptick from January, from 73.1 to 76.7 residential gallons per-capita per day on average statewide.

Figures provided to the state water board showed San Francisco used 44 gallons per capita per day, compared to 69 gallons for Los Angeles Department of Water and Power customers.

Customers of the California Water Services Company in Bakersfield, with 91 gallons, consumed the most water in the urban data broken out for the board.

Adelanto, Big Bear Lake,Fountain Valley and South Gate were the only cities in Southern California that had per capital daily water use of less than 60 gallons plus a 15 percent conservation rate.

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