The State Water Resources Control Board announced Wednesday that regulators are contemplating a return to state-mandated conservation standards as early as next year after urban suppliers slipped in water savings in August.
“The statewide August conservation results raise questions, and we are examining the data to understand why some areas slipped more than others,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus. “Are we seeing relaxation of conservation messaging and programs, or are we seeing abandonment of programs? One may be appropriate, the other is not. It’s a mixed picture. Many communities who certified that they didn’t ‘need’ to conserve are still conserving up a storm, while others have slipped more than seems prudent.
As detailed in the State Water Board’s most recent report, the City of Turlock was one urban supplier who was unable to meet its water conservation target of 20 percent with only 16 percent saved in August.
“We were disappointed that Turlock fell short of its 20 percent conservation goal and attained only a 16 percent reduction in water use in August of this year,” said City of Turlock Director of Municipal Services Michael Cooke. “However, given the protracted spell of hot weather during that time it was not surprising that our customers ran their sprinklers longer and more frequently.
“On the bright side, however, we just received our preliminary conservation number for September and the community achieved a 19.3 percent reduction in water use. It is encouraging to see that Turlock is back on track with its conservation efforts,” added Cooke.
Under the State Water Board’s revised emergency water conservation regulations, urban water agencies had the ability in June to set their own conservation standards based on a “stress test” of supply reliability. Water suppliers had to document that they have sufficient supplies to withstand three years of continuous drought or take additional measures that include state-imposed mandatory conservation targets.
Turlock’s water conservation goal was reduced to 20 percent based on the city’s “stress test” results.
The city’s winter watering schedule goes into effect Nov. 1. Under this schedule, outdoor watering is limited between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. one day per week—Saturdays for even numbered addresses and Sundays for odd numbered addresses. No water is allowed during the week.
“As the weather continues to cool, we encourage customers to reduce the amount of time they water their landscaped areas,” said Cooke.
Urban Californians’ monthly water conservation also declined to 17.7 percent, or 40.4 billion gallons, in August. This decline in water savings, which is down from 20 percent savings in July and 27 percent savings in August of last year, is raising concerns that some water suppliers are abandoning their focus on conservation as California heads into a possible sixth drought year.
Californians continue to conserve water in significant amounts even in the absence of state-mandated conservation targets. The cumulative average savings from June 2015 through August 2016 was 23.3 percent, or 659.7 billion gallons, compared with the same months in 2013. Since June 2015, two million acre-feet of water has been saved—enough water to supply 10 million people, more than one-quarter of the state’s 38 million population, for a year.
However, water conservation has dropped steeply among some local water suppliers. These declines highlight the need for continued education and dialogue with customers on the importance of conserving and using water as efficiently as possible. As the State Water Board continues to monitor conservation levels, a return to state-mandated conservation may be necessary beginning next year.
“While last year’s rain and snow brought a respite for urban California, we are still in drought, and we can’t know what this winter will bring. What we do know is that climate change will continue to make our water years even more unpredictable, so we need to retain our conservation habits for the long term, rain or shine, drought or no drought,” continued Marcus.