Calif. Narrowly Misses Water-Savings Goal

     SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Californians slashed urban water usage by nearly 24 percent over the last nine months yet still failed to meet Gov. Jerry Brown’s lofty cumulative 25 percent order, drought officials said Monday.
     While residents fell short of the state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions, the State Water Resources Control Board applauded conservation efforts and hinted that recent El Nino-driven storms could result in relaxed water restrictions this summer
     “We need to keep up our efforts to conserve the water we’ve gotten. We can better tune up and adjust our emergency rules once we see our final rain and snowpack tallies in the next few weeks,” water board chair Felicia Marcus said.
     A barrage of March storms brought much-needed rain and snow to drought-stricken California and boosted water levels in its largest reservoirs, Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville. California receives about one-third of its water from snowmelt and runoff that is stored in a network of reservoirs.
     The latest snow survey measured the statewide snowpack at 87 percent of normal, while last year’s April measurement marked the snowpack at just 5 percent of its historic average.
     Four years of persistent drought and the historically low snowpack totals moved Brown to introduce stringent statewide drought rules last spring.
     Californians largely answered Brown’s mandate, combining to save 1.19 million acre-feet of water since restrictions began in June. The water board said the amount of water saved over the nine-month stretch was enough to supply 5.9 million Californians with water for one year.
     California water suppliers and municipalities were scattered into conservation tiers ranging from 15 to 36 percent, and the water board said most regions met or exceeded their target.
     The largest monthly savings occurred during the summer months, as Californians surpassed the 25 percent savings goal June through September due to large cuts in ornamental water use.
     However, the state missed its monthly targets in each of the last five months, including saving just 12 percent in February over 2013 levels. The water board attributed February’s drop to abnormally warm temperatures and dry conditions across the Golden State.
      In February, the water board voted to extend Brown’s emergency urban water-use regulations through at least October if drought conditions continue. According to a recent U.S. Drought Monitor report, 55 percent of the state remains in extreme drought.
     The regulator said it will announce new conservation goals for each of the state’s 412 water suppliers by the end of the month and that the targets could “be much easier” to meet. The relaxed standards are expected to call for a 20 percent cumulative water savings goal going forward.
     “Californians rose to the occasion and in some cases will see their conservation requirements eased in response to improved conditions,” Chris Carrigan, the water board’s chief of enforcement, said.
     The water board issued four civil penalties and 98 warning letters to water suppliers over the nine-month stretch. Beverly Hills, Indio, Redlands and the Coachella Valley Water District were fined $61,000 for consistently missing their conservation standards.
     Several cities and suppliers were able to drastically reduce urban water use, in some cases by more than 35 percent. Several San Francisco Bay Area cities shattered their conservation marks, including Menlo Park, Dublin and Pleasanton.
     

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