As Drought Lingers, Calif. Water Savings See Boost

     SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — California officials hinted Tuesday that mandatory drought restrictions could soon be eased after statewide water use declined 24 percent in March.
     Californians doubled their conservation totals from February, and officials attributed the impressive savings to a mix of powerful March storms and continued statewide drought awareness.
     The stubborn five-year drought appears to be loosening its grip on the Golden State but residents must continue to “step up” and prepare for the sizzling summer months, according to State Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus.
     “Twenty-four percent in March is a stunningly welcome number,” Marcus said in a statement. “We may not need the same levels of conservation as last year, but we still need to keep all we can in our reservoirs and groundwater basins in case this winter is just a punctuation mark in a longer drought.”
     The water board has been tracking California’s urban water use for over a year and comparing the savings to 2013 levels. Gov. Jerry Brown issued the state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions in April 2015 and tasked the water board with creating a statewide 25 percent water savings plan.
     Brown’s emergency order was extended by the water board after Californians narrowly missed the goal, combining to slash urban water use by 24 percent over the nine-month stretch. March’s results follow five consecutive months in which the state fell short of Brown’s lofty goal.
     With the state’s northern reservoirs currently at near capacity and a healthy snowpack beginning to melt, the water board has been soliciting ideas regarding the possibility of revising and loosening the drought restrictions. The regulator will consider staff proposals at a meeting May 18.
     “We’ve gotten a bit of a reprieve, but not a hall pass. Now we are figuring out how to appropriately adjust to a better but not ideal situation,” Marcus said.
     Over the last 10 months, Californians have saved a cumulative 23.9 percent, equal to 422 billion gallons. In March, 71 percent of the state’s water suppliers met or were within one percentage point of their assigned conservation standard.
     The Orange Vale Water Company in northeast Sacramento County saved 67 percent over the same time period in 2013.

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