State’s April wa­ter use dips 13.5%

De­spite im­prove­ment, con­ser­va­tion falls far short of 25% statewide cut man­dated by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Matt Stevens and Tony Bar­boza

Af­ter lag­ging dur­ing the first part of the year, wa­ter con­ser­va­tion in Cal­i­for­nia im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly in April fol­low­ing Gov. Jerry Brown’s his­toric or­der re­quir­ing big cuts in wa­ter use amid the wors­en­ing drought.

Wa­ter use in April dropped 13.5%, com­pared with the same month in 2013, a sign that res­i­dents and ur­ban wa­ter sup­pli­ers were tak­ing Brown’s dire con­ser­va­tion calls se­ri­ously.

De­spite the im­prove­ment, the state has a long way to go to meet the 25% cut Brown or­dered on April 1. Over the last 11 months, Cal­i­for­ni­ans cut wa­ter use cu­mu­la­tively by only 9%.

Mark Gold, act­ing direc­tor of UCLA’s In­sti­tute of the En­vi­ron­ment and Sus­tain­abil­ity, said the re­duc­tion in April was im­pres­sive, es­pe­cially af­ter what he called “ab­so­lutely em­bar­rass­ing” con­ser­va­tion ef­forts ear­lier this year. Cal­i­for­ni­ans cut wa­ter use by only 2.6% in Fe­bru­ary and 3.9% in March ver­sus the same months in 2013.

“This is a sig­nif­i­cant move in the right di­rec­tion,” Gold said. “Peo­ple are lis­ten­ing.”

Be­cause April was rel­a­tively warm and dry, Gold said, much of the wa­ter sav­ings likely re­sulted from re­duced use in re­sponse to Brown’s or­der, new con­ser­va­tion reg­u­la­tions from the wa­ter board and more me­dia at­ten­tion to the drought, rather than fa­vor­able weather.

State of­fi­cials said the im­prove­ment shows that res­i­dents, busi­nesses and wa­ter sup­pli­ers are re­spond­ing to Brown’s man­date. The board spent much of April de­vel­op­ing a plan to im­ple­ment Brown’s wa­ter-sav­ing or­der and boost con­ser­va­tion.

“Lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties are step­ping up in a way they weren’t be­fore, and I’m hop­ing that that’s why we’re start­ing to see the uptick,” said Feli­cia Mar­cus, chair­woman of the State Wa­ter Re­sources Con­trol Board, which re­ported the conser-

va­tion data Tues­day.

The decline in wa­ter use comes as of­fi­cials across the state are scram­bling to im­ple­ment wa­ter­ing re­stric­tions ahead of the hot, dry sum­mer months.

The wa­ter board’s plan, ap­proved last month, as­signs con­ser­va­tion tar­gets to each of the state’s wa­ter sup­pli­ers and re­quires cuts in con­sump­tion rang­ing from 8% to 36% com­pared with 2013 lev­els. The tar­gets, based on res­i­den­tial per capita use in July, Au­gust and Septem­ber of 2014, re­quire cities and wa­ter dis­tricts with the low­est con­sump­tion dur­ing that pe­riod to cut the least. Heavy users must cut the most.

The State Wa­ter Board can is­sue cease-and-de­sist or­ders to wa­ter sup­pli­ers for fail­ure to meet con­ser­va­tion tar­gets. Wa­ter agen­cies that vi­o­late those or­ders are sub­ject to fines of up to $10,000 a day.

Progress so far has been un­even.

South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s con­ser­va­tion ef­forts lagged be­hind the rest of the state. In April, South­land wa­ter users cut their con­sump­tion by 8.7% ver­sus the same month in 2013 — the poor­est show­ing among the state’s hy­dro­logic re­gions. Lo­cally, the Los An­ge­les Depart­ment of Wa­ter and Power cut its wa­ter con­sump­tion by about 10%.

And even as many com­mu­ni­ties cut back, some of the state’s big­gest wa­ter users have re­ported in­creases.

Res­i­dents of an aff lu­ent pocket of north­ern San Diego County used about 426 gal­lons per capita per day in April — more than five times what Los An­ge­les res­i­dents used. The Santa Fe Ir­ri­ga­tion Dis­trict, which of­ten has been among the state’s heav­i­est wa­ter users, serves many cus­tomers with large homes and land­scapes. Its wa­ter use in­creased 9%.

Jes­sica Parks, a spokes­woman for the dis­trict, said the wa­ter use grew be­cause warm, dry weather left many cus­tomers “feel­ing the need to make sure their ir­ri­ga­tion was on.”

The dis­trict is im­ple­ment­ing new wa­ter­ing re­stric­tions this month, and “we are ac­tively reach­ing out to our com­mu­nity to re­duce wa­ter use now,” the dis­trict said in a state­ment.

Other South­land cities and towns also strug­gled with con­ser­va­tion in April. Chino Hills and Nor­walk in­creased wa­ter con­sump­tion by 10% and 21%, re­spec­tively, state data showed.

A few South­ern Cal­i­for­nia cities, though, con­served a lot. Glen­dora re­duced con­sump­tion by 26% in April. Whit­tier cut its use by 22%.

State wa­ter board of­fi­cials said the 13.5% cut in April was good, but not enough.

“Peo­ple who weren’t do­ing ev­ery­thing they could are now get­ting the mes­sage: Last year wasn’t good enough; this is se­ri­ous; this is the time for ac­tion,” said Max Gomberg, the wa­ter board’s se­nior sci­en­tist.

The board also re­leased its first full month of data on how of­ten lo­cal reg­u­la­tors cite and fine wa­ter wasters.

Board of­fi­cials said 43 wa­ter sup­pli­ers across the state is­sued 838 penal­ties to wa­ter wasters in April. More than 22,000 wa­ter-waste com­plaints were sub­mit­ted to sup­pli­ers, and about the same num­ber of warn­ings were is­sued.

Gold said the num­ber of penal­ties wa­ter agen­cies is­sued in April “demon­strates that the vast ma­jor­ity of the wa­ter dis­tricts aren’t tak­ing their en­force­ment re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as se­ri­ously as they have to.”

“When the wa­ter agen­cies work­ing with lo­cal gov­ern­ments get to the point of is­su­ing tick­ets for wast­ing wa­ter the same way they is­sue park­ing tick­ets, I’ll know we’re tak­ing con­ser­va­tion as se­ri­ously as we need to,” he said.

But the 22,000 com­plaints are en­cour­ag­ing, said Sara Amin­zadeh, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Cal­i­for­nia Coast­keeper Al­liance, which ad­vo­cates for clean wa­ter, be­cause the num­bers sug­gest height­ened public aware­ness.

Still, she said she was not im­pressed by Tues­day’s wa­ter con­ser­va­tion fig­ures.

“I’m re­ally con­cerned about the bad ac­tors,” Amin­zadeh said. “I don’t see a lot chang­ing with them. I’d like to see the board take a more ag­gres­sive and proac­tive ap­proach to en­force­ment.”

Many wa­ter sup­pli­ers have been re­ly­ing on ed­u­ca­tion and out­reach to help elim­i­nate wa­ter waste.

Oth­ers are get­ting more ag­gres­sive. Some agen­cies have hired more wa­ter “cops,” in­stalled smart me­ters and taken other ac­tion to en­force wa­ter rules.

In Sacra­mento, city of­fi­cials said they achieved a higher-than-av­er­age 23% cut in wa­ter us­age, in part, by step­ping up en­force­ment to seven days a week, start­ing in April. The city re­ceived 3,100 com­plaints, is­sued 1,710 warn­ings and as­sessed 191 penal­ties in April. Those penal­ties were among the high­est in the state, ac­cord­ing to the wa­ter board’s data.

The city’s wa­ter con­ser­va­tion num­bers for May are ex­pected to be even bet­ter, said Bill Busath, direc­tor of the city of Sacra­mento Depart­ment of Util­i­ties. “We’re mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion.”

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