Calif. Water Saving Dips as Drought Rules Ease

     SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Californians remained stingy at the tap despite recently relaxed drought orders to slash water use by 21 percent in June, officials said Tuesday.
     The impressive conservation effort comes on the heels of the state’s contentious decision to drop mandatory drought orders and allow local water districts to create their own savings targets.
     While the data revealed a dip in conservation — 6 percentage points from May — overall conservation remained high under the scaled-back plan, Felicia Marcus, water board chairwoman, said.
     “Californians have continued to conserve without top-down mandates, but the question is whether we can save enough and keep it up for the long haul,” Marcus said in a statement.
     In May, Marcus and the other state-appointed water board members voted to drastically reduce the state’s first-ever mandatory 25 percent water restriction after a wet winter.
     With reservoir levels rising and a healthy spring snowpack, the board relinquished control of water savings targets to local agencies who argued the mandatory orders were overly strict and had cost them millions in water sales.
     Most water districts immediately lowered conservation totals for their customers, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the California Water Service Co. Many of the state’s water districts dropped their conservation targets to zero.
     According to the water board, 370 of 410 water suppliers have submitted updated plans for review since May. The districts must prove that they have enough water available to withstand another three years of drought in order to relax their conservation standard.
     The regulator was criticized for loosening drought orders while much of the state remains in severe drought. Environmentalists questioned the decision and called it an overreaction to impressive winter rainfall totals that were boosted somewhat by El Nino.
     As of July 26, nearly 60 percent of the state remains in severe drought, with large portions of Southern California in extreme and exceptional drought.
     While Californians trudge through the hot summer months, conservation will remain key regardless of the lowered conservation orders, Marcus said.
     “Some relaxation of conservation in light of the relief we got last winter and other supply conditions is appropriate and expected; abandonment of conservation is not,” she said.
     Over the last 13 months, Californians have combined to save 24 percent compared to 2013 levels — enough water to supply 8.8 million people for a year.

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