MAP: Water Savings Down Just As Drought Rules Extended

Winter storms may be luring many Californians to relax about the drought, but on Tuesday, state officials sent a message that the drought is far from over.

They voted to extend the state’s mandatory water conservation rules through October; the rules were set to expire this month. Under them, water districts have to cut back water use from 4-to-36 percent.

"It's only half-time in this rainy season and we don't know what's coming next," said Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board.

About 40 percent of the state’s water districts are already failing to meet their conservation targets. Many have been lobbying the water board for more leeway going forward, asking for a lower targets for districts in inland areas or for those with large local water supplies.

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The board voted to provide some wiggle room, cutting conservation targets by up to 8 percent for districts that have invested in drought-resilient water supplies like water recycling, for those areas that have shown water-efficient growth and for places with hot climates.

"I think that we’ve made so much progress, that Californians have stepped up," said Sara Aminzadeh of California Coastkeeper Alliance. "And I think that there’s a real danger that if we start to back off that now, we lose some of the ground we covered this year in terms of the ‘keep saving California’ message."

Some water districts asked the board to wait until April to reinstate the conservation targets, saying their customers would likely ignore a conservation message during the rainy season.

Water conservation dropped off in California over the winter. In December, Californians saved just 18 percent, the lowest level since the mandatory drought rules began.

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That means cumulatively since June, Californians have saved 25.5 percent, just barely meeting Governor Brown’s goal of cutting water use by 25 percent. Saving water is generally tougher during the winter because residents already use less water outdoors.

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