Thirsty Californians Hit Water-Conservation Target for Third Month in a Row

     SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Despite record-breaking July heat, California’s impressive effort to cut urban water use continued as the state exceeded mandatory conservation goals for the third consecutive month, regulators said Thursday.
     California water districts continue to answer Gov. Jerry Brown’s calls for conservation, combining to save 31 percent in July, which was recently dubbed the hottest month on record by scientists.
     The State Water Resources Board said residents are battling “the drought of the century” and applauded them for their increased response.
     “Millions of conscientious Californians are the real heroes here – each stepping up to help local water resources last longer in the face of an historic drought with no certain end date,” water board chair Felicia Marcus said.
     The state hit the conservation benchmark for the third month in row as June’s urban-water use was 27 percent lower than 2013 rates. Historic drought led Brown in April to call for the development and enforcement of conservation plans aimed at saving a minimum of 25 percent – precisely the number Californians hit in May.
     While critics of Brown’s lofty conservation goals and water districts initially blasted the plan in April, the water board said Californians have come together to surpass expectations.
     Californians saved 74 billion gallons in July and the average residential water use was 98 gallons per capita per day. In July 2014, residential water use averaged 132 gallons per capita per day, the water board said.
     Drought penalties increased in July as well, as water agencies issued 15,845 penalties compared with 8,876 in June.
     While many residents and farmers look for a brewing El Nino to bring drought relief this fall, state regulators continue to implement water-saving measures. Earlier this month the water board announced the nation’s strictest low-flow standards for residential showerheads, standards it believes will save the state 38 billion gallons by 2026.     
     In a conference call with reporters, the water board highlighted several cities and water agencies for greatly surpassing conservation goals, including Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and West Sacramento. All three cities surpassed their individual conservation tiers by more than 15 percent, with Santa Rosa cutting water by 43 percent compared to July 2013.
     Marcus said cities and residents are cutting back on outdoor watering and turning their lawns “California golden.”
     “People have gotten the message that outdoor turf in particular takes a lot of water and that’s the best place to save water now. And I mean now,” Marcus said.
     California’s bustling medical-marijuana industry was also targeted by regulators this month, as state officials introduced the nation’s first regulatory program to monitor the impact of large-scale cultivation on groundwater supplies.
     Officials claim marijuana growers are contributing to the drought by damaging rural water quality by diverting streams and estimate that a typical grow operation of 200 plants uses 180,000 gallons a year – the average annual household total.
     California’s economy, particularly its agricultural industry, has proven to be essentially drought-proof. Recent figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed 2014 was a record year for California farmers, selling $54 billion worth of crops.
     Expensive crops like grapes and almonds helped increase totals five percent over 2013 totals, despite farmers across the state receiving less surface water deliveries.

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