SACRAMENTO (AP) — A severe drought prompted California Gov. Gavin Newsom last summer to ask the state’s nearly 40 million residents to voluntarily reduce water use by 15% this year. New data released, Tuesday, shows few people are doing that.
Californians reduced their water use by a measly 3.9% in September, down from 5.1% in August. Overall, California has reduced its water consumption by just 3.6% since July, when Newsom made the request.
“It’s not the news we want to see, for sure,” said E. Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board.
A megadrought fueled by climate change has enveloped much of the West. As California heads into what traditionally is its wettest time of the year, 80% of the state is classified as in extreme or exceptional drought, the two worst categories.
State officials had hoped Californians’ conservation would continue to improve each month as more people learn about the drought and water agencies promote their conservation efforts. Instead, data showed none of the state’s “hydrologic” regions met the 15% threshold and two in the Central Valley region that account for 10% of the state’s population actually used more water in September than a year ago.
Water agencies say California actually has reduced its consumption because of changes put in place during prior droughts. That means cutting more now is harder.
In Los Angeles, customer demand for water has dropped 30% since 2007. And during the drought that ended in 2017, customer demand fell by 20%, a reduction mostly maintained once that drought ended.
For example, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has imposed mandatory irrigation restrictions since 2009 and incentivized customers to replace their lawns with turf. The agency has been hiring more people to enforce water use rules, beefing up patrols that search for leaks and violations.
Beyond those efforts, it will take lots of time and money to see any real savings “given most of the immediate savings potentials have already been accomplished in our service area,” said Terrence McCarthy, the department’s water resources policy manager.
The biggest water savings in September came in two sparsely populated regions in Northern California, where conservation increased by 12.4% or more. The San Francisco Bay area reduced its water use by 7.6%, and it fell 4.2% in the South Coast, which includes Los Angeles and San Diego and accounts for more than half the state’s population.