SAN FRANCISCO - Urban Californians still are saving less water since mandatory conservation measures were lifted earlier this year in the state's drought, but monthly figures released Tuesday show the conservation backslide is leveling off.
Californians used 18 percent less water than usual in September than in the same month during the benchmark year of 2013. That compares with 26 percent less usage in September last year when the state's mandatory conservation order still was in effect for cities and towns, the state Water Resources Control Board reported.
California remains under a nearly three-year-old state-declared drought emergency, despite improved rain and snow since last winter. Environmental groups argue declining water conservation over the past four months warrants a return to mandatory conservation, while water agencies are fighting the idea.
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Water officials on Tuesday declared themselves satisfied overall with the latest figures.
Continuing water savings - while not as big as during Gov. Jerry Brown's 25-percent conservation order - show the order served its purpose, water board member Steven Moore said Tuesday.
"It's really changed the culture of the state," Moore said. "Mandatory was a good idea to get things going. And now, things are going."
September's water savings were better than last month's sagging conservation report, which showed water use shooting up by a third.
In all, Californians since summer 2015 have saved enough water to supply 10 million of the state's 39 million people for a year, the state said.
Amid a wet start to California's current rainy season, and some mending of Californians' backsliding ways on conservation, the advice of the state's drought czar: Relax and enjoy the rain, for now.
"These last few years ... I practically kiss each raindrop," Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the state water board, said before Tuesday's meeting.
Northern California, the site of most main reservoirs, has logged an unusually wet October. San Francisco is ending the month with three times the normal rainfall for the period, and Sacramento, five times, the National Weather Service said.
Currently, just one-fifth of the state - in the south - remains in the most severe category of drought. That compares to nearly half the state at this time last year.
In January, the water board is due to take stock of the state of drought and Californians' conservation. Options then include re-imposing some statewide conservation requirement, if needed, Marcus said.