Poor Marks for California on Drought Water-Saving Scorecard - NBC Southern California

Coverage of one of California's most severe dry spells on record and its dramatic turnaround

Poor Marks for California on Drought Water-Saving Scorecard

Californians managed to reduce their daily water use by only 6.7 percent in October compared to the same period last year, far short of Gov. Jerry Brown's goal

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Californians are losing ground on compliance with a state goal to cut water use by 20 percent during the state's historic drought, according to statewide water-use figures released Tuesday.

    Daily per-capita water-use figures for October from the state Water Resources Control Board show Californians used 6.7 percent less water compared to October of last year. That's far short of the 20 percent reduction goal set by the state earlier this year after Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency.

    The first also lags well behind Californians' 11.6 percent year-on-year reduction in August and 10.3 percent reduction in September.

    Updated: California Drought Timeline

    Water board staffer Eric Oppenheimer told board members that the latest figures stem from high water use in some Southern California communities, according to The Associated Press. Southern coastal communities as a whole managed just 1.4 percent water reduction in October, compared to the same period last year. Rainfall in those areas is always short and residents love their green lawns, golf courses and swimming pools.

    Northern coastal communities cut water use 22 percent for the same period.

    Communities that consumed the most water per person include Golden State Water District in the Southern California city of Cowan Heights. That water district used 520 gallons per person per day on average, compared to, for example, 47 gallons a day in East Los Angeles, according to the state.

    California is in its third year of a drought with no significant relief in sight, despite a week of storms that brought rain and snow to the state. Some parts of the state received more rain in one day than the total for the previous nine months.

    December Storm PhotosDecember Storm Photos

    Nearly 80 percent of the state is under extreme drought, the second most severe category listed by the U.S. Drought Monitor. One year ago, about 28 percent of the state was under the severe drought category.

    The severity of drought might decrease with this week's precipitation, but significant improvement largely depends on a strong El Nino system, the tropical Pacfic Ocean phenomenon that affects weather patterns. Strong El Nino systems draw moisture into California, but a weak system probably would not generate enough rainfall this winter to significantly improve drought conditions.

    Water board officials said they're trying to figure out if the usage was caused by a lack of awareness about the drought; not enough enforcement of conservation guidelines; this year's warmer weather; or something else. Board members threw out ideas ranging from asking the state Transportation Department to post stronger messages about the drought on flashing highway advisory signs, to looking at whether more penalties should be imposed on big water users, the AP reported.

    Time-Lapse: LA River RisesTime-Lapse: LA River Rises

    A time-lapse of the LA River outside the Brokaw Brokaw News Center, on the Universal Studios lot, shows the water rise between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesday Dec. 2, 2014 during a storm.
    (Published Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014)

    Drought Conservation FAQ

    Q: How are California residents doing when it comes to meeting the state's goal for reducing water use?
    A: Not as well as hoped. Gov. Jerry Brown in January declared a drought emergency, and asked Californians to cut residential water use by 20 percent. The latest figures released Tuesday by the state show that Californians managed to reduce their daily water use by only 6.7 percent in October compared to the same period last year. The closest the state's 38 million people have come to meeting the 20 percent goal was in August, when water use was down 11.6 percent year-on-year. Still, the state Water Resources Control Board said Tuesday that Californians have saved 90 billion gallons since June -- enough water for 1.2 million people for a year.

    Q: Why are Californians falling so short?
    A: Water board officials said they're trying to figure out if the usage was caused by a lack of awareness about the drought; not enough enforcement of conservation guidelines; this year's hotter weather; or something else. Board members threw out ideas Tuesday ranging from asking the state Transportation Department to post stronger messages about the drought on flashing highway advisory signs, to looking at whether more penalties should be imposed on big water users.

    Water board officials say some of the key problem areas are affluent communities in Southern California, where rainfall is always short but residents love their green lawns, golf courses and swimming pools. Californians in the south coast region managed to cut water consumption by only 1.4 percent in October, the weakest showing in the state.

    Extreme Weather Photos: Malaysia FloodsExtreme Weather Photos: Malaysia Floods

    Q: It's raining in California now, so why still worry about saving water?
    A: California officials say the state would need 150 percent of its normal annual rainfall to recover from drought. As of this autumn, the state had marked its driest three years on record, the federal government's National Climatic Data Center said. Storms so far this rainy season have brought parts of the state closer to normal rainfall for this point in the year. But the most important reservoirs contain just 39 percent to 60 percent of normal water levels. The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, one of the most critical sources for state water year-round, is also lagging. Before the Tuesday storms, the southern Sierra had gotten just 47 percent of its normal rain and snow so far, and the northern Sierra 79 percent.

    Q: How hard is the drought hitting California?
    A: Poorer, rural communities in the agricultural Central Valley are feeling some of the sharpest impacts. Hundreds of wells have gone dry as water tables recede, leaving families to rely on trucked-in water or even water collected for them by Girl Scouts. Some farmers say they've had to spend thousands of dollars more to dig deeper well or buy water, and some have seen almond and pistachio trees or other orchards shrivel. The drought has been hard on wildlife as well. State and federal officials last month, for example, said low water in creeks meant one kind of coho salmon in Northern California was apparently unable to breed at all this year. The officials had to move all year-old cohos in that creek to a hatchery to try to save the species.

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