Update on urban water conservation numbers: State reduces water use overall by 7.5% in July, saving 17 billion gallons of water

SWB 1At the September 9 meeting of the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board), Max Gomberg gave a presentation on the August water production data that was provided to the Board as required by the emergency conservation regulation adopted by the board in July.

He began by noting that the data was required by August 15, and that a lot of people had been asking about it. He said that staff worked diligently to gather as much data as they could and to ensure that the data was accurate. “As we go forward, we’ll be able to get the data out more quickly,” he said.

The water suppliers were asked for their potable water production data for June and July for this year and last year and whether the suppliers had invoked mandatory outdoor restrictions. There were additional questions on enforcement, recycled water, and implementation as well.  Mr. Gomberg noted that many of the water suppliers have chosen not to issue fines as part of their enforcement activities, but some are employing additional personnel to respond to water waste complaints, and they are working with customers to reduce water use, fix leaks, and take other conservation actions.

090914_board_meeting_item9_pres_Page_05The regulations required data from water suppliers with over 3000 connections or that serve more than 3000 acre-feet per year. Data was received from 362 of the 415 water suppliers who were required to report, which represents 87% compliance and 33 of the 34 million people who are served by this group of suppliers, he said.

We are working with the water suppliers whose data we don’t have yet to make sure we get it in, and in many cases, it’s been technical issues,” he said. “We’re not aware of any cases where someone is refusing to provide the data.”

090914_board_meeting_item9_pres_Page_06Rafael Maestu then ran down the results of the survey. He said that one of the questions water suppliers were asked was if they were implementing mandatory outdoor restrictions. “What we see is that 71% are implementing some kind of mandatory restrictions, and two of them that are using allocation rate-based plans which also meet the requirements, so we expect this number to improve,” he said.

Water conservation has improved, with the data from June and July of 2014 lower than June and July of 2013. “For the month of July, we have 7.5% savings; that’s approximately 17 billion gallons that were saved compared to what was used last year,” he said. “That is an improvement from the month of June where we only saved 4.4%, which is approximately 9 billion gallons, so we have seen an improvement, a trend in the right direction.”

090914_board_meeting_item9_pres_Page_07But this reduction of 7.5% average in July is not the same in every region,” he said, presenting a graph breaking the data down by hydrologic region. “We can see in the Sacramento River, for example, they are already almost at 20%, 19.5% reduction, and other regions are way below that, like the South Coast, which is 1.7%.”

It’s interesting to see on the graph the weight of the South Coast has on the state average,” he said. “The South Coast has 60% of the population but they are only using 52% of the water, so in terms of per capita, they are probably at a lower rate than the other hydrologic regions.  We can see that the efforts are not applied consistently, so we see significant differences in the percent reduction.”

Chair Felicia Marcus noted the differences between the regions. “In the Sacramento area, people saw Folsom at low levels and could see the pickle they were in,” she said. “In some of the ones off on the Colorado River or other areas that may have fairly good senior water rights, they don’t perceive much of a problem, and in the South Coast, you have the areas that have been conserving for decades already, so if you could superimpose this when we will have the gallons per capita, per person, per day, it might tell a different story.”

And the percent reduction from what – that’s the other piece of the puzzle,” added board member Steve Moore.

090914_board_meeting_item9_pres_Page_08As we collect more data in the next months, we will be able to analyze information based on per capita,” said Mr. Maestu. “So the overall trend is positive. We went from 4.5% to 7.5%; we expect better results for the month of August. In May, we were actually using more by 1.5%.”

Max Gomberg then pointed out some of the standouts in water conservation efforts, noting that this would not be an exhaustive list because there are a lot of agencies and residents who have really stepped up and made conservation during this drought central to the way they live their lives and operate their businesses.

In Southern California, Long Beach has had some of the most aggressive turf removal, and other conservation programs for a long time, and they are starting at that lower baseline, and yet they still managed, July of this year compared to July of last year, to reduce consumption further by 4%, and so we think that’s a really fantastic achievement,” said Mr. Gomberg. “The Golden State Water Company’s Claremont District was one of the few in Southern California that achieved a double-digit reduction – a 10% reduction, so that’s noteworthy.

“In the Bay Area, the Alameda County Water District, and the Tri-Valley communities of Dublin, San Ramon and Livermore who are heavily dependent on the State Water Project – they‘ve really responded tremendously with reductions of over 30% from most of them, July to July,” he said. “And across the Bay, Burlingame and Menlo Park have both posted reductions of over 20%, and some of the larger water suppliers in the Bay Area region are up over 10%.

Max and Panel 2Mr. Gomberg noted that San Francisco, which already has a low per capita use has reduced by 9%, and East Bay MUD over 10%. “It’s been a good response,” he said.

In the Sacramento Valley, nine different Sacramento region suppliers had reductions from July to July of over 20%, and in the San Joaquin Valley, there were also a number with high conservation percentages. “So we’re really beginning to see the trend of water conservation go in the right direction and people are responding to the call,” he said.

The Tuolumne Public Utilities District, the City of Santa Cruz, the Cambria Community Services District and the Bella Vista Water District have had to respond to severe shortages as they were in danger of running out of water. “All four of them have done a tremendous job, and we’ll be looking to them, should things continue to be dry into the winter and we have more communities, larger communities that are facing severe shortages beyond what we’ve already been dealing with.”

Chair Marcus requests staff to post the stories these outstanding efforts – a paragraph for each – on the website within the next day. “We told people we would do it and we haven’t done it, so I want it done,” she said.

Mr. Gomberg then tried to put the results in context. “We’ve talked about Long Beach and how they’ve continued to make progress,” he said. “It’s only a 4% reduction compared to 20+% elsewhere but that’s because they are starting at a much lower baseline, and when you’ve already reduced your outdoor irrigation frequency, installed a more efficient irrigation system, converted to drought tolerant landscaping and invested in efficient indoor appliances and fixtures, then getting that next increment is harder – but they are doing it. More can and should be done because we know that it can be done, and Long Beach really demonstrates that.”

Another reason we know more can be done is that we’ve seen some fantastic turf removal figures coming out,” he said, noting that in the Santa Clara Valley, they increased their rebate, and since then, 365,000 square-feet have been removed with another 866,000 in process just in the Santa Clara Valley alone,” he said. “The great thing about turf removal is if it’s converted into a lower water use landscape, then that’s a permanent reduction.”

090914_board_meeting_item9_pres_Page_13Mr. Gomberg noted that in Southern California, the results have been similar. “This is the residential sector, and you can see that it’s just shooting up so we know that there’s more potential for conservation because as people are continuing to focus on this and make those decisions to change out their landscaping.”

090914_board_meeting_item9_pres_Page_14The commercial sector really deserves kudos as well,” he said. “The businesses in Southern California are really stepping up in their efforts to be responsive to the drought.

Mr. Gomberg said that since the regulation was passed, they’ve received hundreds and hundreds of phone calls, letters, and emails on all manner of topics related to water conservation and use, but mostly focused on the regulations. “One of the big takeaways is people want there to be equitable implementation of these regulations ,” he said. “When they are doing their best, and they see their neighbor down the street watering the sidewalk, they want something to be done about that. They want to make sure that businesses and institutions are held accountable, and they don’t want to see the city’s public works department watering the street, either. And that’s really been a large part of the response, which is great. People are paying attention and want to get results.” He noted that people are paying attention to the myriad of ways water is used throughout the state, and trying to determine if they are still appropriate given the severity of the drought.

He said that they’ve received several calls from those concerned about city codes requiring maintenance of public or front-facing spaces. “We’ve talked to a number of these cities and they’ve been educating their code enforcement staff to be sure that people aren’t being penalized for not watering, but only for not maintaining, which is a slight nuance,” he said. “The legislation that was signed earlier this year pertains to homeowners associations, but there’s no commensurate legislation for local jurisdictions.”

As we look forward, we’re encouraged by these numbers, but there’s more to be done, especially since the forecasts are still not looking good for precipitation this winter, and we need to conserve our reserves,” he said. “We’re going to continue to monitor this. We’re going to look at the conservation numbers, the forecasts, our reservoir levels and assess whether we want to propose to you that additional measures should be taken, and to make sure that all of the water suppliers are implementing what’s required in the regulation.”

He noted that the presentation and all the raw data are available on the website.

Ms. Marcus then summed it up: “You received a good response to the survey, so different than before. You received a good response to the implementation of regs and that’s just within two weeks, so that 70% number we assume it’s going to be a lot higher the next time. You got good July movement on increased conservation; we’ve gone from more water used to a little bit of progress in June and steady progress in July, even as people were introducing these ordinances and practices, so optimistic that August is going to show us better numbers. Directionally, we’re going in the right direction, but we still want more, of course, because all of the El Nino predictions that I think were overblown at the time but people were relying on. We know now that we’re likely to have a dry fall and early winter, so all bets are off. We really are going to need to do as much as possible, but it’s encouraging movement, and we’ll look forward to people doing a lot more as these things become implemented.”

Definitely more is possible … “ said Mr. Gomberg.

And more would be better,” said Ms. Marcus.

For more information …

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