For the first time in seven months of state monitoring, Californians surpassed Gov. Jerry Brown's water-conservation goal, reducing water use by more than 20% in December 2014 compared to the same month the year before.
The 22.2% statewide reduction came after months of conservation stagnation, which had prompted concern from some water officials. In August 2014, the state cut its water use by 11.5%, but water conservation lagged in the months that followed and leveled off around 10%.
The encouraging cuts in water use come as the state suffered through a dry January in which San Francisco got no rain for the first time in 165 years. In a statement, State Water Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus called the 22.2% reduction "welcome news."
"It appears we are entering a fourth year of drought, which is awful to contemplate, but we must," Marcus said. "Conservation is still the smartest and most cost effective way to deal with this difficult drought."
Water officials have said Southern California's large population makes the region's water use a significant driver in the state's overall efforts. The South Coast Hydrologic Region, which includes Los Angeles, cut its use 23.2% in December 2014 versus the year prior.
In a presentation Tuesday morning, state water officials named 18 South Coast water suppliers that cut use by more than 20% and whose residents used less than 60 gallons of water per person per day.
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power customers cut their use by 20.9% in December, and used 62 residential gallons per person per day. Overall, California residents averaged 67 gallons of water use per person per day. That was down from as much as 140 gallons in June 2014.
"CA is doing its part to #SaveOurWater, but the drought is far from over," Brown tweeted Tuesday afternoon. "Careful stewardship & conservation must be our way of life."
Officials had said they were concerned that a wet winter would discourage people from conserving.
"This was a wet December in most of the state, and people got the message not to water on top of the rain – that is good news," Marcus said. "Our challenge will be to keep outdoor irrigation to a minimum as we move into the warmer spring months."
Since the state water board began collecting comparative data last summer, Californians have saved more than 134 billion gallons of water – enough to supply 1.8 million California residents for a year, officials said.