SACRAMENTO (CN) - Californians surpassed lofty mandatory water conservation goals for a fourth consecutive month in August, combining to save 27 percent despite devastating wildfires and record-breaking heat.
State officials credited Californians for continuing to answer Gov. Jerry Brown's historic 25 percent reduction mandate by turning off their sprinklers and allowing their lawns to turn "California golden."
"Millions of Californians stepped up to save water this summer and we must all keep up the good work because no one knows how much longer this historic drought will continue," said Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board. "With continued heat, the danger of more wildfires and no way of knowing when the drought will end, every drop of water that remains in our local reservoirs and aquifers is insurance in case of another dry year or more."
Several of the state's largest cities drastically decreased urban water use in August compared to the same month in 2013, which is used as the goal's benchmark. Los Angeles combined to save 17 percent and San Diego 21 percent.
Overall, the state saved 63 billion gallons in urban water use, and a total of 193 billion gallons since June.
August conservation numbers did drop from 31 percent in July, but Marcus said the "news is still good" and she praised Californians for meeting Brown's mandate each month since it took effect in June.
Brown's goal requires the state to save 1.2 million acre-feet of water by next February. Californians have conserved 611,000 acre-feet thus far.
Despite the successful urban water savings this summer, officials are cautiously optimistic about the growing El Nino that may bring a wet winter to California. The water board warned that El Nino doesn't promise the cache of snow that is needed to replenish the state's snowpack, which feeds reservoirs during the summer.
"We know that climate change is creating and bringing warming temperatures to us and diminishing the snowpack," Marcus said.
The state's 411 water districts and agencies were given individual conservation standards ranging from four to 36 percent under Brown's mandate. In August, 70 percent of suppliers exceeded or were within one percent of their conservation goal, according to the water board.
The state's water-savings standouts included the Santa Clara County city of Morgan Hill which saved 42 percent in August, and the LA suburb of Lakewood with 30 percent.
Regulators said Thursday that because the agencies have efficiently conserved water, just 66 warning letters have been issued to water suppliers since June. Statewide, water agencies handed out 14,975 penalties for water-waste violations.
California's "water year" began Thursday, as meteorologists and water regulators mark Oct. 1 as the start of the state's rainy season.
Long-term forecasts predict dry weather for much of the state through November and residents can't let up on conservation efforts because of the cooler weather, Marcus said.
"We're still on the better-safe-than-sorry plan here," she said.