Article courtesy of Paul Rogers | January 6, 2015 | San Jose Mercury News | Shared as educational material
After two months in a row of declining conservation, Californians are doing better at saving water, but they remain far short of a goal set by Gov. Jerry Brown last January.
Statewide, residents cut water use by 9.8 percent in November, compared with November 2013, according to new state figures released Tuesday. That’s an improvement from October, when the reduction was only 6.8 percent. And it compares with the 11.5 percent savings in August, and 10.2 percent in September .
“The lower number in October was of great concern,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board. “But that might have been something of an anomaly with the heat down south. This month (November) feels better, although we’d always like more. Some areas have really stepped it up, and other areas we need to encourage to step up more.”
Last January, in declaring a drought emergency, the governor asked Californians to voluntarily cut their water use by 20 percent.
Many parts of the state are at or near that goal now.
But huge regional differences remain. Residents of the South Coast region — essentially Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange and Riverside counties — cut water use by only 3.2 percent in November, while the Bay Area and Sacramento reduced water use by 18 percent and 25 percent, respectively.
State water board officials said that temperature differences and the fact that Northern California received a small amount of rain in November while Southern California received next to none are responsible for some of the differences. But the chasm between conservation in the North and South mirrored every other month since June when the survey of 400 water agencies and cities began.
“While the South Coast has been a water conservation leader for several decades, we remain concerned the current drought effort has not translated into more aggressive conservation there,” Marcus said.
Some Southern California water leaders have begun to try to put the best face on the numbers.
“In California water, it is important to take the long view. For all of us to make progress, it is important to avoid the temptation to pit one region against another,” said Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which provides water to 19 million people in and around Los Angeles, in an op-ed Dec. 20 in Bay Area News Group newspapers.
Kightlinger noted that Southern California has expanded local water supplies with new reservoirs, desalination and water recycling since the last big drought from 1987 to 1992. And despite adding 5 million residents since then, overall water demand is 20 percent less, he noted.
Still, some experts say far more can be done.
“The message in the southern part of the state has been, ‘We’re in pretty good shape. We are doing better than everybody else,'” said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, a nonprofit water research organization in Oakland. “But that message has confused people. It should be, ‘We’re moving in the right direction, but we need to do more.'”
In the Bay Area, the 1 million customers of the San Jose Water Company cut water use 18 percent in November. The East Bay Municipal Utility District cut use by 20.7 percent, while San Francisco cut it by 7.8 percent and Santa Cruz reduced it 27.9 percent.
By comparison, Fresno saved 15.3 percent, Los Angeles 6.9 percent and San Diego 0.6 percent.
Although California received drenching rains in December, its snowpack on Tuesday was just 43 percent of normal for this date. And its largest reservoirs, such as Shasta and Oroville, while filling steadily in the December rains, had been so low that their levels have come up to only about 40 percent full, when they are historically about 60 percent full this time of year on average.
A ridge of high pressure that blocked storms over the past three years of drought has resurfaced off the Pacific Ocean, leading to dry, sunny weather. But some relief may be in sight: The National Weather Service said Monday that Northern California could receive 3 to 4 inches of rain over the next two weeks.
“We all hope it is going to rain a lot in the next couple of months,” Gleick said. “But the drought’s not over. It’s a long way from being over. We shouldn’t act as though a little bit of rain has solved our problems. If the next year is dry, the pain is going to increase.”