California Misses Governor’s Water Saving Target By a Hair

Last year Gov. Jerry Brown gave residents the order to cut water use by 25 percent compared with 2013 usage — but they missed the mark by just 1 percentage point.

by Ryan Sabalow and Phillip Reese, The Sacramento Bee / April 5, 2016

(TNS) — More than a year ago, Gov. Jerry Brown gave Californians an unprecedented order to cut water use by 25 percent between June 2015 and February 2016, compared with 2013 usage. The results are in: Residents missed the conservation mandate by just 1 percentage point.

On Monday, State Water Resources Control Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus described the savings total as “nine months of extraordinary effort by urban California” that came “pretty darned close” to meeting Brown’s original goal, set at a critical juncture in the state’s historic drought.

“We’re going to have to think very carefully about what we do next,” Marcus said in a conference call with reporters after the figures were released.

“Do we lift the regulations and hope for a better next year, and hope that Californians steward what water they have in local supplies augmented by whatever supplies they get? Or do we continue but adjust the regulations to recognize that we’re in better – but not tip-top – shape?”

All told, urban water districts cut water use from June to February by 23.9 percent, compared to 2013. Water conservation slipped in February, when savings reached just 12 percent, the fifth consecutive month in which water districts fell short of Brown’s target.

Those misses, offset by strong conservation during the summer, are largely symbolic now. The board has extended Brown’s emergency order to October, albeit with targets for many inland communities somewhat relaxed. State officials plan to further modify the conservation mandates in the coming weeks to reflect a winter that boosted Northern California reservoir levels and snowpack to near average levels.

Most water districts in the Sacramento region and across the state met or came close to meeting their cumulative nine-month targets, state figures show. Fourteen of the Sacramento region’s 23 largest water districts either met their target or missed it by less than 1 percentage point, state figures show.

The largest misses locally were at Folsom and Golden State Water Company Cordova. Both missed their targets by 6.3 percentage points. The cities of Folsom and Davis posted the lowest overall savings for the nine-month stretch: Folsom at 25.7 percent; and Davis at 26.3 percent compared to 2013.

Statewide, about 180 of the 400 largest water districts missed their conservation targets by at least 1 percentage point. About 40 districts missed their targets by more than 10 percentage points. Most of those missing their targets by a wide amount were smaller communities in Southern California, including Beverly Hills, El Segundo and Twentynine Palms. The state fined a handful of noncompliant districts last year, but regulators mostly have chosen to work with districts to improve their efforts.

“I wouldn’t say potential fines for past behavior are off the table,” said Cris Carrigan, the water board’s enforcement chief. “We’ll take another look, and make sure that we’re pleased with the compliance efforts, and ... we’ll do a final assessment as the numbers come in here.”

The extended regulations relax the mandates for many inland communities, where hot weather makes it harder to keep lawns and trees alive. Many of the water agencies in greater Sacramento saw their targets fall by 3 percentage points.

Urban water districts in Northern California are pushing for further relaxation of the conservation mandates as the region’s reservoirs fill and snowpack nears average levels. The San Juan Water District in Granite Bay, in a challenge to the state, recently said it would switch to voluntary conservation. On Friday, the city of Roseville said it would allow residents to water their lawns twice weekly beginning Monday rather than once.

Marcus said her board is aware of the concerns and may relax the standards statewide or modify them to account for regional weather patterns and local water supplies. The board has scheduled a public workshop April 20 to gather input on possible changes.

©2016 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.