Water conservation figures for July show California residents are beginning to understand the dire need to cut back in a fourth year of drought, according to state officials.
California cities cut water use by a combined 31 percent in July, exceeding a mandate set by the governor, this month's Water Supplier Conservation Compliance report shows.
Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, said that regulators are now turning their focus to the communities failing to conserve. They are making personal visits with local officials in cities that have haven't responded to a mandate by Gov. Jerry Brown's to use 25 percent less water.
"This isn't your mother's drought or your grandmother's drought," she said. "This is the drought of the century."
Record rain in July played a role in the savings, causing people to leave their sprinklers idle. Enforcement and strong messaging by water agencies were bigger factors, Marcus said.
"We have a movement in urban California," she said.
More than 92 percent of the state is under severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The weekly report categorizes drought severity -- moderate, severe, extreme and exceptional.
Forty-six percent of California is under exceptional drought, according to this week's report. That figure is up from 32 percent at the start of the year.
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Marcus said July's recent water use figures look good. Communities throughout California collectively conserved by 27 percent in June, meeting the governor's mandate.
Contacted independently by The Associated Press, water districts serving San Jose, San Diego and Fresno -- among California's largest cities -- said they've surpassed their mandated targets and continue to increase conservation.
San Diego in July used 29 percent less water. The San Jose Water Company used 38 percent less water, and Fresno reports conserving by 31 percent. Water savings are compared to 2013, the year before Brown declared a drought emergency.
Officials have not yet issued fines to underperforming water agencies, but they can be as high as $10,000 a day. Marcus said she favors other methods to achieve California's goals.
"I believe that peer pressure and the bully pulpit is going to be most effective," she said.