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California Water Savings Effort Misses Mark

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - Californians missed Gov. Jerry Brown's mandatory 25 percent water savings target in November, state officials said Tuesday.

November's figures marked the second consecutive month that Golden State residents failed to conserve enough water. The State Water Control Resources Board said the statewide conservation rate was just 20.3 percent in November - down from 22.3 percent in October.

But the water cops also noted that Californians have combined to cumulatively cut water use by 26.3 percent since the regulations began in June. Despite the slight drop in conservation numbers in November, residents continue to combat the state's historic drought and are on target to meet Brown's order, they said.

"I want to be clear that the goalpost is the 25 percent in February, so we're still winning the race and I just don't want anyone to impugn the heroic effort Californians are still making," water board chair Felicia Marcus said.

Golden State residents' average daily water use dropped to 75 gallons per person, down from 87 gallons in October and the lowest number measured since the emergency order began.

"The fact that per person water use dropped to 75 gallons per person per day on average is proof that Californians are clearly thinking twice before turning on the tap," Marcus said.

November's figures came as the first truly El Nino-driven storm of the year slammed the entire state with strong winds, heavy rain and mountain snow. By Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service had issued flood watches and warnings for dozens of counties stretching from Santa Barbara to Shasta.

Officials urged caution despite the arrival of the long-awaited El Nino rains, pointing out that the state's reservoirs and water savings banks are in worse shape than this time last year.

Meanwhile, the California's vital snowpack appears to be recovering after a lineup of cold storms brought above-average snow in December.

Meteorologists said last month's cold storms were not caused by El Nino. The first snowpack survey of 2016 measured the water content of the Sierra Nevada snowpack at 136 percent of normal.

Several years of intense drought led 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.

The water board has been monitoring urban water consumption for 18 months and comparing the totals to 2013 water-use figures. The emergency order is set to expire in February, although the water board is expected to update or extend the urban-use restrictions and is currently taking public comment.

"In the spirit of 'it's better to be safe than sorry,' we're going to need to keep going until we know we can ease up or let go," Marcus said of extending the order.

Revisions to the plan would reduce some water districts' conservation goals, particularly those in inland and desert areas. Several water suppliers in the Central Valley have also struggled to meet their targets and have asked the water board for a more realistic goal moving forward.

In October, the regulator issued its first fines to three cities and a desert water district for falling short of their state-mandated standards: Beverly Hills, Indio, Redlands and the Coachella Valley Water District.

The water board fined the cities $61,000 each for consistently missing their conservation standards since June.

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