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California water conservation slips as responsibility shifts back to cities

People walk along a path of yellowing grass at West Haven Park in Garden Grove on Tuesday. Californians conserved less water in June, the first month that statewide drought restrictions were eased following a winter of near average rain and snowfall, state officials said Thursday.
People walk along a path of yellowing grass at West Haven Park in Garden Grove on Tuesday. Californians conserved less water in June, the first month that statewide drought restrictions were eased following a winter of near average rain and snowfall, state officials said Thursday. Associated Press

Californians conserved less water in June — the first month that statewide drought restrictions were eased following a winter of near-average rain and snowfall — state officials said Thursday.

As the state endures a hot, dry summer in a fifth year of historic drought, water managers reported that Californians used 21.5 percent less water in June than they did in 2013, a drop of 6 percentage points from a year earlier.

In San Luis Obispo County, most communities fell short of the 25 percent conservation target, with only Arroyo Grande (38.3 percent) and the Nipomo Community Services District (28.1 percent) exceeding the goal in June. Morro Bay had the smallest reduction locally, down 19.5 percent.

The monthly report comes as state officials begin returning conservation efforts to local cities and water districts after a return to more typical winter precipitation, mostly in Northern California.

Water districts throughout the state pushed regulators to drop mandated conservation that had required cutbacks of up to 25 percent compared with 2013. That was the year before Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency.

A dip in conservation was expected after the statewide mandate was eased, and conservation overall remained high, said Felicia Marcus, State Water Resources Control Board chairwoman.

“The community spirit of realizing that water is something to treat with respect and not take for granted is holding,” Marcus said. “Most importantly is for people to keep the lawn on a water diet.”

The state has cumulatively reduced water consumption by 24 percent over the past 13 months, close to the 25 percent target, water board officials said. That amounts to 571 billion gallons of water saved, enough to provide 8.8 million people with water for a year, said Max Gomberg, of the water board’s Office of Research, Planning and Performance.

Water districts argued that the blanket mandate didn’t give many of them credit for investing millions of dollars in water recycling and desalination plants or other means of becoming more drought-proof.

Starting in June, districts that show they have enough water to get through another three years of drought could relax conservation — or completely escape strict conservation orders.

Garden Grove in Southern California has ample water supplies, said William Murray, the city’s public works director. It draws water from an underground aquifer that is refilled with treated waste-water.

However, the city won’t lift its strict bans on washing cars without a turnoff nozzle and running sprinklers more than twice a week until officials in Sacramento approve its drought plan. That could come by the end of August.

The city’s 186,000 residents look forward to turning on the sprinklers often enough to have grassy, green parks again for playing soccer and relaxing, Murray said.

“In some parks it looks like residents are playing in a dust bowl,” Murray said.

Elena Perez, a 65-year-old retired restaurant hostess, said she wants the city to use water carefully, but the park where she and other residents use exercise equipment and children take swim lessons could use a little boost.

“We need the plants and the trees,” she said.

German Adame, a

58-year-old busboy, said he’s cut back on watering the lawn at home during the drought. He said he’s not sure whether the city should boost watering at the parks — even if that means the grass dries up.

“I think if there’s a problem, it’s not a good idea,” he said.

In many communities, there is no need to live under emergency conditions, said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, the nation’s largest coalition of public water agencies.

“If you are a resident of California getting water from responsible water agencies … you don’t have to put a bucket in your shower,” he said. “You can flush when you need to.”

SLO County water conservation

The state data compares water savings in June 2016 with June 2013 and the estimated daily gallons of water used per capita for June 2016. The city of Grover Beach and the Cambria Community Services District did not submit data by the July 20 deadline.

Water supplier

Water savings

June 2016

vs. June 2013

Estimated

per capita

daily water use

Arroyo Grande

38.3%

92.6 gallons

Atascadero

Mutual Water Co.

22.3%

144.9

Morro Bay

19.5%

63.4

Nipomo CSD

28.1%

132.5

Paso Robles

21.2%

122.4

Pismo Beach

21.3%

103.6

San Luis Obispo

22%

58.7

Source: State Water Resources Control Board

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