"State Cuts Water Usage 31%, Beating Mandated Target" by BRADLEY J. FIKES, San Diego Union-Tribune 8/28/2015
California’s urban water agencies — including most in San Diego County — comfortably beat the state’s conservation mandate for July, collectively reducing use by an average of 31.3 percent compared with two years ago.
Added to June’s performance, the agencies have cumulatively reduced water consumption by 29.5 percent, the State Water Resources Control Board said Thursday. The governor’s threshold is an average statewide savings of 25 percent.
By exceeding the conservation order for both months since it took effect, the districts together have built a buffer of sorts in case they slip in later months.
Gov. Jerry Brown imposed the mandate, which will last until at least February, as an emergency measure in response to the state’s ongoing drought. Each water agency, including major cities such as San Diego that operate their own water system, was given a conservation goal— from 8 percent to 36 percent.
Water agencies are expected to meet their mandates both monthly and cumulatively. Districts that fall short in a particular month are expected to make up the deficit in later months so their total conservation over the emergency period meets their assigned target.
Four districts in San Diego County missed their marks, according to cumulative totals for June and July released by the state.
The Rainbow Municipal Water District fell short of its 36 percent mandate by 8.4 percentage points. The Fallbrook Public Utility District failed to meet its 36 percent benchmark by 7.6 percentage points, while the San Dieguito Water District lagged its 28 percent mandate by 5.8 percentage points. And the Carlsbad Municipal Water District fell short of its 28 percent goal by 1.2 percentage points.
But the Rincon del Diablo Municipal Water District, which in June fell 2.2 percentage points short of its 32 percent mandate, more than made up the deficit with better conservation in July. The agency surpassed its cumulative June-July target by 1.4 percentage points.
The best performer in this county, California American Water’s San Diego District, blew past its 8 percent mandate by a cumulative total of 22 percentage points.
Conservation performance in August could be more difficult because it has been a mostly dry and hot month, compared with July’s ample rainfall in certain parts of the state.
Water experts also caution that people shouldn’t rely on the possibility of the atmospheric phenomenon El Niño providing major relief from the drought or even ending it.
Only the strongest El Niños bring abundant precipitation and snowfall to the Sierra mountains in Northern California, the source of water for the state’s biggest reservoirs. Average El Niños tend to channel rain mostly toward Southern California, which doesn’t help nearly as much in battling a prolonged drought.
But so far, residents have been meeting the conservation challenge.
“Californians’ response to the severity of the drought this summer is now in high gear and shows that they get that we are in the drought of our lives,” Felicia Marcus, chair of the state water board, said in a statement Thursday. “This isn’t your mother’s drought or your grandmother’s drought, this is the drought of the century.”
Praise for customers
The number of water agencies that met or surpassed their state conservation target increased from 265 in June to 290 in July. Only four districts, out of a total of 402, missed their state-imposed mandate by more than 15 percent last month.
“I’m surprised but gratified that people are getting it,” said Rita Schmidt Sudman, an adviser to the Sacramento- based nonprofit Water Education Foundation.
Sudman and other water experts were interviewed for this story during the annual conference of the Urban Water Institute, which is taking place this week in San Diego.
David Drake, a director of the Rincon del Diablo district, said the conservation success shows what Californians are capable of doing when they’re motivated.
“What’s also striking is what it says about how much water we waste,” he said. “How many leaks do we have? In my home and my mom’s home, I detected five leaks this year. ... And on top of that, what can we do to reduce the normal use of water?”
Jack Hoagland, board president of the Rancho California Water District in southwest Riverside County, praised the consumer commitment but said the mandate was unnecessary.
“It’s a great response from customers throughout the state to the governor’s unreasonable request,” he said.
As with officials for water agencies in San Diego County, Hoagland said the conservation order is inflexible and doesn’t take into account local circumstances, such as various projects undertaken to create a more stable water supply.
“Our customers have been extremely cooperative and have invested a lot of their time and effort and money in changing out front yards and just being very reasonable,” Hoagland said.
On the state’s end, enforcement is ramping up after an initial educational period.
The state water board said it contacted water districts that did not meet their required conservation targets, with many told to give information about their conservation programs and what steps they are taking to increase conservation.
The board said that for July, it gave 37,170 formal warnings for water waste among 323 suppliers. In June, it gave 36,302 formal warnings.
The board said it also issued 15,845 penalties among 79 suppliers last month, compared with 8,876 penalties issued in June among 54 suppliers.