ENVIRONMENT

California Is Nowhere Near Meeting Its Water Conservation Goals

Sprinklers water a patch of grass on the sidewalk in front of a house in Alhambra, California, on July 25, 2014. In the lates
Sprinklers water a patch of grass on the sidewalk in front of a house in Alhambra, California, on July 25, 2014. In the latest report released by the California Department of Water Resources on July 23, ten of the state's 12 major reservoirs have fallen below 50 percent of their total capacity as California nears the historic lows set in 1977, with reservoir levels expected to further drop if the three-year drought persists. And despite calls from California Governor Jerry Brown to limit water use during drought, a report released last week by the State Water Resources Control Board showed Californians have actually increaded water consumption this year. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. Brown (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

One year after Gov. Jerry Brown asked Californians to cut water use by 20 percent in light of the historic drought plaguing the state, new data shows that residents didn't come close to achieving that goal during the last half of 2014.

According to data released Tuesday by the state’s Water Resources Control Board, statewide residential water use decreased by 9.8 percent in November (the latest month for which numbers are available) compared to the same month the year before. While the result falls short of Brown’s objective, it’s a notable improvement from October, when residents only cut use by 6.8 percent from the same month last year. August, however, was the peak month with an 11.6 precent reduction.

“In many parts of California, it is clear that residents understand we are in a prolonged drought. And many continue to conserve water, even as we enjoy welcome rain and runoff that is beginning to recharge our reservoirs and groundwater supplies,” Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus said in a press release Tuesday. “Conservation is still the smartest and most cost effective way to deal with this difficult drought. We need to treat water as the precious resource that it is.”

Reductions in Northern California ranged from 25.6 percent in Sacramento to 18.3 percent in San Francisco, but the board, which started collecting data in July, called cutbacks in the southern half of the state “disappointing.” While it has discouraged county-by-county water use comparisons because of varied climates and landscapes, the South Coast region had a shockingly low 3.2 reduction in November, up from 1.2 in October but slashed from the 7.5 percent it reached in September.

“While the South Coast has been a water conservation leader for several decades, we remain concerned the current drought effort has not translated into more aggressive conservation there,” Marcus said. “That said, we are encouraged by what we have heard from water districts in the South Coast hydrologic region, including LA Mayor Garcetti’s ambitious 20 percent reduction goal, and we expect to see better in 2015.”

Water use also tends to be greater in wealthier neighborhoods. The Los Angeles Times noted that at more than 580 gallons of water a day per capita, the state’s top water consumers in September were in affluent communities in San Diego. Those residents used more than 12 times that of residents in poorer communities in East Los Angeles.

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