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Water users still cutting usage, report says

Sprinklers irrigate a lawn in Sacramento, Calif. in this file photo from June 23, 2015.

Sprinklers irrigate a lawn in Sacramento, Calif. in this file photo from June 23, 2015.

(Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

As water agencies throughout the state adjust to new rules regarding conservation, the State Water Resources Control Board this week issued figures for April indicating that Californians continued to cut water consumption.

Water use was reduced statewide by 26.1% compared with the same month in 2013, the year the state board set for comparison purposes.

The news came as Laguna Beach County and South Coast water, as well as districts throughout the state, are preparing to submit revised conservation targets to the board that prove they can supply their customers with enough water for the next three years, assuming drought conditions persist.

It’s an effort by the state to keep Californians on the conservation track, while taking into account each water agency’s specific conditions instead of a top-down mandate from the state.

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“The fact is that we could be staring down the barrel of continued drought into 2017, and last winter’s rain and snow could just be a punctuation mark in a longer drought,” state board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said in a news release.

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Laguna Beach County and South Coast each had a 24% reduction target, but the state board last month removed the mandated goals in favor of districts submitting their own suggested standards.

Laguna Beach County’s service area includes downtown Laguna and northern portions of the city; South Coast covers sections of South Laguna and portions of Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente.

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If groundwater or imported or recycled supplies do not provide enough water to cover the three years, districts must then set savings targets.

Both South Coast and Laguna Beach County are awaiting word from their imported water wholesaler as to how much water they will receive for the next three years before calculating final numbers.

Districts must submit their reports to the state board by June 22.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do yet. This must go to the board,” said Christopher Regan, Laguna Beach County’s assistant general manager. “Even if we submit to the state a zero, we could still say we want customers to cut back 10%.”

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South Coast’s general manager, Andy Brunhart, said he did not want to comment until after the district board meeting Thursday night.

South Coast board members were expected to vote on whether to increase the number of watering days from one to two days per week from June 25 through Oct. 31, and whether to declare a 10% potable water cutback from June through January.

Laguna Beach County customers are relegated to twice-a-week watering on outdoor irrigation systems.

Despite near average rainfall in much of Northern California last winter, 60% of the state remains in severe drought, according to the state board. Groundwater basins and many reservoirs are badly depleted as the state’s drought grinds into a fifth year.

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Acknowledging the drought is not over, Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this year ordered rules that include bans on washing cars using hoses that don’t have shut-off nozzles, watering grass on street medians and watering to the point that runoff results.

South Coast customers saved 27.1% in April compared with the same month in 2013, while Laguna Beach County ratepayers trimmed water use 18.8% compared with the same month in 2013.

Water saved during the last 11 months was enough to supply more than 7 million Californians for one year, or 18% of the state’s population, the state board reported.

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Bryce Alderton, bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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