Southern Californians are reducing their water use amid a historic drought, but they’ve cut back at the lowest rate in the state, the Water Resources Control Board announced this week.
The South Coast Hydrologic Region, which includes major urban areas such as Los Angeles, Santa Ana and San Diego, reduced water use by 1.7% in July — an improvement from May when a voluntary survey by the state board showed an 8% increase in Southern California water use.
But the Southland’s water-usage reduction paled in comparison to the statewide 7.5% reduction — down more than 17 billion gallons from July last year, the board announced.
Max Gomberg, the state water board’s senior environmental scientist, cautioned against comparing Northern and Southern California. He said there is high variability among regions.
Some areas, he said, are simply “starting from different places” when it comes to conservation. For instance, Long Beach may see only a relatively small reduction now, but that’s because it has been aggressively conserving water for years, he said.
“Part of the reason we’ve seen such a huge response from the Sacramento area is because they had higher per-capita use rates to begin with,” Gomberg said. “They were able to quickly do things like reduce irrigation frequency, make fixes to irrigation systems, swap out some turf — all things that many Southern California communities have already done.”
Declines in California water usage deepened following the adoption in July of emergency conservation regulations. The state saw an average 4.4% reduction in June, but despite calls for conservation, the state saw a 1.5% increase in consumption in May.
Still, Californians are falling far short of the 20% reduction Gov. Jerry Brown called for in January when he issued an emergency drought declaration.
“We’re happy to see the attention people have paid and that they’re now stepping up,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the state water board. “It’s way better than it was. But we obviously want much more.”
In July, the state water board adopted conservation regulations that spurred local water districts to tighten local ordinances. In many districts, mandatory outdoor watering restrictions were adopted and some agencies limited water for residential carwashes and pools.
State water officials attributed the increased water savings to new regulations and to amplified media attention. They said they expect the uptick to continue as new ordinances take effect and more people feel the consequences of the ongoing drought.
“I think there are people in large urban centers who now know there is a drought who didn’t know in the early part of the year,” Marcus said.
The board in July also made reporting water usage mandatory for urban water suppliers. About 87% of water agencies responded to the board’s survey, compared with only about 63% that responded voluntarily in May.
The water board is expected to consider whether more aggressive actions are needed to reach the governor’s 20% target after the August reports are released in mid-September.
“We’re seeing the trend and it’s encouraging,” Marcus said. “If it tapers off or it doesn’t materialize then we’ll have to think next steps, but I prefer to be an optimist. Better late than never.”