Californians miss water conservation targets again as drought worsens – Monterey Herald


Californians continue to miss conservation targets by a large margin, new numbers released Friday show, despite Gov. Gavin Newsom’s warning six weeks ago that mandatory statewide restrictions are on the way if local conservation efforts don’t improve.

Last July, Newsom declared a drought emergency and asked California residents to voluntarily cut urban water use by 15% compared to 2020 levels. Although Northern Californians reduced consumption by 8.5% in May, Southern California regions fell far short at just 2.2% and dragged the statewide reduction in use to 3.1% compared to May 2020.

The new numbers represent only a slight improvement from last July through May, when residents, businesses and government agencies cumulatively reduced water use statewide by 2% compared to the same period in 2020, according to the State Water Resources Control Board.

Is a crackdown coming, with mandatory conservation targets for each city? That’s what former Gov. Jerry Brown imposed during California’s last drought, but Newsom’s office wasn’t saying on Friday.

Newsom spokeswoman Erin Mellon called the May numbers a positive trend but said more needs to be done.

“Individuals and California businesses need to step up,” Mellon said. “We will continue to monitor the state’s conservation numbers, especially the early June numbers as we evaluate if additional changes are necessary.”

On May 23, Newsom told the leaders of the state’s largest water agencies that the lagging conservation was a “black eye.” He said his office would monitor the situation over the next 60 days, and he told the agencies to step up outreach and education efforts to communicate the urgency of the crisis to the public.

A few weeks later, the state water board required most cities and water districts to limit outdoor watering to two days a week and ban the irrigation of ‘non-functional turf,’ or grass at office parks and industrial sites, but not at schools, parks or golf courses.

After three dry years in a row, on Thursday 97% of the state was in a severe drought and 59% in an extreme drought, the third and fourth most severe of five drought categories, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly federal report.

On Friday July 8, 2022, roughly 97% of California was in a severe drought, and 59% in an extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly federal report. (Source: US Drought Monitor)
On Friday July 8, 2022, roughly 97% of California was in a severe drought, and 59% in an extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly federal report. (Source: US Drought Monitor)

Some people may finally be getting the message. The May numbers represent improved conservation from March and April, when statewide urban water use actually increased 18.9% and 17.6% compared with the same months in 2020.

The gradual trend toward more conservation comes after modest rain across the state in April — following the driest January, February and March in recorded state history — and increased campaigns by cities and water agencies around the state urging people to conserve while reservoir levels continue to drop and hot summer months loom.

Preliminary numbers for June, submitted by water agencies representing about 30% of California’s population, are showing further conservation with water savings of 7.7%, water board officials said.

Still, some water experts on Friday said that the governor’s approach is falling short.

“It’s pretty clear the voluntary actions aren’t enough,” said Peter Gleick, co-founder and a senior fellow at the Pacific Institute, a non-profit water research organization in Oakland. “The numbers are better than last month, but they are still really disappointing.”

One reason for the lackluster conservation is a continued difference between water use in Northern and the “South Coast” area that includes Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego.

“My impression is that Northern California water agencies are playing up the drought more than Southern California water agencies,” said Jay Lund, co-director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.



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