By Alex Emslie
Southern California struck back in the water (conservation) wars slightly in December, and significantly in January, according to new statistics on H2O savings released Tuesday by the state Water Resources Control Board.
State regulators started publishing the data on year-over-year residential water conservation last June. Since then, the San Francisco Bay Area has maintained a steady conservation trend, using less and less water each month compared with the same month the previous year.
SoCal stumbled, using more water in June 2014 than the previous year despite California’s historic drought. And while the Bay Area’s conservation trended upward throughout the second half of last year, SoCal slipped in August and September and plunged to just under 2 percent conservation (again, compared with the previous year) in October. That same month, the Bay Area saved more than 15 percent.
But then the sunny South rebounded, marginally in September and sharply in December, the same month the State Water Board hosted a water conservation workshop in Los Angeles — a not-too-subtle prod. The state points out a very wet December likely contributed to water savings in all regions, but then again, who’s to say SoCal didn’t catch a bit of conservation envy from its selfless (or is it self-righteous?) northern neighbors?
If your Bay Area pride is bruised, take heart, because people in this region use less water, per person per day, than any other, even if we’ve been embarrassed by our smaller strides, and fall-backs, into using even less.
How much less? The Bay Area’s residential water use averages 56 gallons per person per day. SoCal residents use an average of 75 gallons per person every day.
Overall, the state reports that conservation since June 2014 has saved 146 billion gallons of water, or enough for almost 2 million Californians for a year.
But January, the driest since record keeping began more than 150 years ago, brought bad news.
Conservation dropped across the board. The Bay Area went from 21.6 percent conservation, compared with December 2013, to 3.7 percent in January. SoCal’s conservation also took a dive, from 23.3 percent to 9.2 percent. You read that right. Not only was water saving abysmally low as California entered its fourth year of drought, but SoCal’s conservation topped the Bay Area’s in both December and January.
It’s not just the bitter rivalry between North and South at stake. The two regions together make up about three-fourths of the state’s residential water users.
Water conservation wasn’t the only bad drought news today. The state Department of Water Resources reported today that the critical mountain snowpack is a small fraction of its normal level. Electronic monitors, which capture some high-altitude locations, show a composite average of 19 percent for March 3; manual measurements of snow courses show just 13 percent of the March 3 average.
“We are in an extremely serious situation. We can and must do better conserving our water during 2015 because there’s just no guarantee this horrendous drought will end anytime soon,” state water board Chair Felicia Marcus said in a statement. “Clearly state residents used their outdoor irrigation in January, which appears to account for the decline in water conservation. At a time when communities are running out of water, fields continue to remain fallowed for a second year, and fish and wildlife are suffering, the prospect that this year will be worse than last year is very real.”
Later this month, the water board will consider renewing emergency regulations that could punish water-wasters with fines of up to $500 a day.
“This board is prepared to make some tough decisions in the coming months,” Marcus said, “including adopting permanent, rather than emergency water conservation measures, going forward. It is that serious.”