New Data Show California Cities’ Progress towards State-Mandated Conservation Requirements

by Kristina Donnelly, Research Associate

August 4, 2015

In response to the Executive Order Governor Brown issued in April, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted an emergency regulation requiring 25% savings in urban water use across the state, with a goal of saving 1.2 million acre-feet over a nine-month period. Each water supplier serving more than 3,000 connections was given a conservation standard based on how high their residential use was in the summer of 2013; those with higher use (in gallons per capita per day, or gpcd) were required to save more (as a percentage of overall use) and those with lower gpcd were required to save less. Water suppliers have been working to reduce water use through drought surcharges, mandatory restrictions, rebates, education campaigns, and more.

The State Board has been collecting and reporting per capita water use data since July 2014. However, the compliance period for the mandatory reductions began on June 1st of this year. Late last week, the State Board released figuresshowing each utility’s progress towards their individual goal. We have created two online tools (an interactive tableand map) that allow you to explore and visualize these data.

The data show that the state, as a whole, exceeded the 25% reduction goal, saving more than 27% in June 2015 (the hottest June on record) compared to that of 2013. Californians saved over 182,000 acre feet of water, or about 15% of the total 1.2 million acre feet goal. Of the 405 water suppliers reporting, 266 suppliers (66%) met or exceeded their conservation standard. More than 40% of all urban water suppliers reduced their water use by 30% or more.

There were some high performers in June. Of the water suppliers serving more than 100,000 people, the following exceeded their target by at least 15 percentage points (with their compliance target listed in parentheses):

  • City of San Buenaventura (16% target)
  • City of Hayward (8% target)
  • Alameda County Water District (16% target)
  • City of Sunnyvale (16% target)
  • San Gabriel Valley Water Company (16% target)
  • California-American Water Company, Sacramento District (20% target)
  • San Jose Water Company (20% target)
  • East Bay Municipal Utilities District (16% target)

Even utilities with relatively low per capita water use were able to achieve significant reductions. For example, the City of San Bruno reduced their total water use by 29% to 57 gpcd. Likewise, the Cambria Community Services District, which serves just over 6,000 customers, reduced their water use by 45% – from 132 gpcd in June 2013 to 73 gpcd in June 2015. It can be done!!

But it is not a rosy picture everywhere. According to the data, 139 water suppliers (34%) did not meet their target, with 86 suppliers missing the target by more than five percentage points. Of the water suppliers serving more than 100,000 people, the following missed their target by 13% or more (with their compliance target listed in parentheses):

  • Rancho California Water District (36% target)
  • California Water Service Company, Dominguez (16% target)
  • Coachella Valley Water District (36% target)
  • Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District (28% target)
  • Eastern Municipal Water District (28% target)

The State Board will be issuing notices to those who fell short of their conservation targets by more than 1% and will require many of these to submit more detailed information about their drought actions. Water suppliers that are more than 15% from meeting their standard (of which there are 16) will be required to take additional actions, such as implementing mandatory water use restrictions and increasing their enforcement.

The current drought is giving California an opportunity to build a more resilient water future and so any significant reductions in water savings should not foster complacency. With the public paying such close attention to the drought, water utilities have a much greater chance to help their customers make significant, permanent reductions in water use.Every drop that we save now is a drop we can use in the future. Without knowing how long this drought is going to last, we must save as many drops as we can.