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Water use in California dips, but still short of Newsom’s goal

Ironically, residents living in the Colorado River Basin cut their water usage the least, even as lakes Powell and Mead shrivel to ghosts of their former selves.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Californians used less water in June but are still falling short of the 15% mark set by Governor Gavin Newsom.

According to numbers released Tuesday by the State Water Resources Control Board, Californians cut water usage by 7.5% in June compared to June 2020. However, between July 2021 and the end of June 2022, water usage dipped by just 2.7%.

Given the relatively slight drop in water use and the increasingly dire picture of the Golden State's drought, Newsom convened a panel with local water leaders for the second time in as many months to point out the importance in continuting to use less water.

“We are dealing with a changed climate in California that demands we reimagine not just how we use water, but how we capture, store and distribute it throughout the state,” said Newsom. “We are heading in the right direction but we need local water providers to do more to not only save water, but to help the state manage and increase supply as rain and snowfall become less reliable.”

In its report, the water board noted the amount of water used now at 2019 levels, at 101 gallons per person per day.

The San Francisco Bay Area saw the largest decrease with a 12.6% drop. The North Coast, San Joaquin River watershed, South Lahontan and Sacramento River watersheds all saw 10% less water used.

Despite the conservation, curtailment orders will continue and will increase in intensity beginning this week through mid-August. Curtailments within the San Joaquin watershed will affect those with water rights newer than the mid-1800s. Senior water rightsholders after 1914 in the Sacramento River watershed and Legal Delta will also see water cut off.

The Colorado River basin saw the smallest decrease in water use at 4.2%. This comes as both Lake Mead and Lake Powell are nearing the point where they will no longer be able to generate hydroelectricity. Lake Powell stands within 47 feet of that mark and Lake Mead is within 90 feet of that mark.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will be reducing flows into the Russian River from the Potter Valley project, as the dam was not re-licensed by Pacific Gas & Electric, and this will affect the amount of water available to users in the watershed. The water board said it will be examining the water available and what type of curtailments will be needed.

One thing residents can do to both save water and maintain a dynamic landscape is to install a gray water system in their homes. Some systems require a permit and others do not. Gray water — water from sinks, showers and washing machines — keeps plants and lawns alive without using fresh water, saving households anywhere from 16% to 40%.

The use of recycled water increased between 2020 and 2021 by 3,000 acre-feet per year. California has a goal of using 2.5 million acre-feet of recycled water per year to meet water use goals during dry years and take stress off surface and groundwater sources.

But the state is far from that goal: In 2021, 732,000 acre feet of recycled water was used in California across a number of sectors and locations. Los Angeles and Santa Ana had the highest usage of recycled water, mostly in landscape and industrial uses. The Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys used recycled water mostly for agricultural use.

Rebecca Greenwood, engineering geologist in the board's Division of Water Quality, said more money needs to be invested into recycled water projects to dramatically increase recycled water volumes. Given the state is not on track to meet its goal — set in 2009 — she said it's time to revisit what's feasible to expand the use of recycled water, especially potable recycled water.

Projects are coming online shortly which will add an additional 100,000 acre-feet of recycled water by 2030. But paradoxically, Californians using less water could mean some recycled water projects won't have enough water to function.

Newsom urged residents to limit outdoor watering to one day a week, take showers of five minutes or less, use a broom to clean outdoor areas and only run full laundry loads — all in an effort to meet his goal of cutting water use by 15%.

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