SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - As a barrage of El Nino-fueled storms ended 2015, Californians missed meeting mandatory drought conservation figures for the third straight month, regulators said Tuesday.
Residents combined to cut urban water use by 18 percent in December, but state regulators said California remains on track to meet a long-term 25 percent savings goal through February.
The California State Water Resources Control Board said that despite missing December's conservation target, it is "cautiously optimistic" that the state will meet Gov. Jerry Brown's nine-month drought mandate and that a drop in the conservation rate was expected during the winter months.
Water board chair Felicia Marcus applauded water agencies, suppliers and residents for responding to Brown's emergency order even with the recent decline in water savings.
"The fact that we're focused on those percentages is less important than the fact that folks have really stepped up to do extraordinary stuff at extraordinary costs in many cases," Marcus said. "I think there's going to be an amazing story to be told over time."
Four years of persistent drought forced Brown to order the state's first mandatory water restrictions from a barren Sierra Nevada meadow this past spring. He tasked the water board with creating a conservation plan for the state's more than 400 water suppliers to meet a 25 percent reduction in urban water use.
Board members emphasized that with outdoor irrigation use at minimum during the winter months, Californians will need to focus on slashing indoor water use to meet the 25 percent goal in February.
Since June, Californians have combined to save 1.1 million acre-feet of water. Statewide average daily water use in December was 67 gallons per day - the second-lowest rate recorded since the water board began its drought reporting.
With the emergency conservation order set to expire in February, the water board is scheduled to vote and will likely extend the drought orders on Tuesday afternoon. While California has received above-average rainfall in many parts of the state, regulators say they won't know if conditions have improved enough until the final Sierra Nevada snowpack measurement on April 1.
Marcus urged Californians not to relax because of the wet weather, and reiterated the importance of cutting urban water use.
"While the recent rains and growing snowpack are wonderful to behold, we won't know until spring what effect it will have on the bottom line for California's unprecedented drought," Marcus said.
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