PALMDALE — With California in the midst of a historic drought, water use by customers in the Palmdale Water District increased over 2020 in the earlier part of this year, but the message of water conservation seems to be getting through in the latter months.
With the reservoirs that feed the State Water Project at critically low levels and little relief in sight, the District, in April, called for voluntary water use reductions of 15%. Gov. Gavin Newsom made the voluntary reductions a statewide issue in July.
At the beginning of 2021, before the voluntary measures were in place, Palmdale Water District showed an almost 10% increase in use over the previous year, itself a high point for overall use.
The increase was not terribly surprising, given the hot, dry weather, PWD Resource and Analytics Director Peter Thompson II said.
“If it’s hot in February, people turn on their sprinklers,” he said. Outdoor irrigation can account for as much as 50% of a customer’s use, if they have a house with a lawn.
After the governor’s drought emergency proclamation, “customers responded” and the District did see a reduction in use, Thompson said.
From July through November, water use is down 5.3% versus 2020 overall, he said.
The numbers for the beginning of December continue that trend, with a little more than a 6% reduction.
“That number’s going to get bigger toward the end of the month,” with colder, wetter weather, he said.
The trend is promising, as people were able to conserve somewhat even through the warm, dry fall.
“I look at that as a victory and trend in the right direction,” Thompson said. “We definitely have more work to do in terms of getting water use down, especially if next year we don’t get a good allocation from the State Water Project,” he said.
The State Water Project provides about half of the District’s water supplies, using water carried from Northern California through the California Aqueduct, which is held in Lake Palmdale before being treated at the adjacent Leslie O. Carter Water Treatment Plant.
State Water Contractors have been warned that next year’s allotment could be zero, if drought conditions persist.
The recent winter storms are a help, but it will take an above-average year of precipitation to restore the depleted reservoirs.
“Hopefully, this is a good start to at least an average winter,” PWD General Manager Dennis LaMoreaux said. That may be enough to stave off mandatory conservation measures.
Mandatory conservation measures are a possibility if the State Water Project allocation is less than 20%, Thompson said. This year’s allocation was 5%.
“The reservoirs we receive our water from … are still very, very low compared to where they need to be,” he said. “We still have a long ways to go before we say we are out of a drought.”
The District’s Water Shortage Contingency Plan allows the Board of Directors to switch between voluntary and mandatory restrictions as needed.
“I don’t see us going into mandatory conservation stages unless forced by the state,” LaMoreaux said.
One of the best things customers can do to reduce their water use is to reduce their irrigation use, Thompson said.
Letting lawns go dormant in the winter is probably the biggest game-changer, he said.
Inside, taking shorter showers and fixing even small leaks will have an impact.
For long-term savings, converting landscaping to xeriscaping and removing as much lawn as possible will have considerable overall savings.
The Palmdale Water District’s Water Wise Landscape Conversion Program, which pays customers a rebate for converting to xeriscaping. That program is fully funded next year.
Visit www.palmdalewater.org for information on that and other water-saving programs and ideas.