Bay Area Leads State in Latest Water Conservation Numbers

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A bald man with light skin and a close-cropped silver beard makes notes on a tablet. He's wearing a blue short-sleeved shirt with Los Angeles Department of Water and Power embroidered in white. Behind the man is blurred green grass and a tree trunk.
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) water conservation specialist Damon Ayala makes notes in July 2022 while inspecting a sprinkler system, which is operating in violation of the water conservation ordinance. The Bay Area led the state in water conservation in June, with a 12.6% cut compared to June last year. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The latest statewide water conservation numbers are improving, having more than doubled from May to June, and the Bay Area is leading the way.

In June, statewide water consumption dropped by 7.6% compared to June 2020, whereas in May, Californians reduced water use by just 3.1%, according to a report from the State Water Resources Control Board on Tuesday.

"The second round of the drought emergency regulations took effect at the end of May and the numbers seem to indicate we're seeing some positive impacts from that," said Marielle Pinheiro, a data specialist with the Water Board's Office of Research, Planning and Performance.

The emergency regulations require all of the state's 436 urban water suppliers to implement Water Shortage Contingency Plans, which vary from supplier to supplier but can include things like incentives for conservation and for replacing water-intensive landscaping as well as fines or additional charges for overconsuming water.

For example, the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), which delivers drinking water to 1.4 million customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, mandated a 10% water-use reduction, tightened restrictions on outdoor water use and reinstated its Excessive Use Penalty Ordinance, which includes fines of $2 for every 748 gallons of water used above a 1,646-gallon threshold, among other things.

The district says it has recorded water-use reductions of 6% in May, 12% in June and 16% in July, compared to those months two years ago.

"Customer savings figures are moving in the right direction, but we know we must do more," said EBMUD General Manager Clifford Chan in a news release Tuesday.

"EBMUD asks its customers to continue to conserve, and if they are able, make more changes to make long-term impacts to their water use habits," Chan said.

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Also in June, the Water Board banned the use of potable water on "decorative or non-functional grass" at commercial, industrial and institutional properties across the state.

"I think the numbers are definitely heading in the right direction," said Dave Eggerton, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies.

"It's positive and only getting better," said Eggerton, whose association represents hundreds of water systems that collectively deliver about 90% of the state's water to residential and commercial users.

Water Board chairman E. Joaquin Esquivel said June's conservation numbers are heartening since they come on the heels of two months, March and April, when statewide water-use numbers rose by 18.7% and 17.8% respectively.

"What is important to see is that turnaround," Esquivel said. "We did pass in late May our regs; all water agencies are now at Level 2 of their Water Shortage Contingency Plan and we began banning the irrigation of non-functional turf."

In June, all of the state's 10 hydrologic regions reported a decrease in water use — the Bay Area heading up the list with 12.6%, followed by the North Coast and San Joaquin River regions with a bit over 10% each.

Marin County residents saved the most at 24.7% in May. Napa and Sonoma counties also beat Gov. Gavin Newsom's targeted 15% conservation goal.

San Francisco and Solano lagged behind, each at only around 5% savings.


The South Coast region, which includes Los Angeles and San Diego and is home to more than 55% of the state's population, recorded a nearly 6% drop in water use.

From July 2021 to June 2022, the state's cumulative water use dropped by 2.7% compared to 2020, well below the governor's conservation goal.

"We met with the governor recently and he made it very clear that he wants to see this happen," Eggerton said. "It's a critical part of our response to the drought."

Eggerton also said the state needs to continue investing in water storage and delivery systems in order to build resiliency in the face of ongoing temperature rise and precipitation declines.

"We really need to capture as much (water) as we can when we do have wet years so we're in a better position to deal with the challenges we have now," he said.

KQED's Kevin Stark and Bay City News contributed to this report.