Local folks have cut way back on their residential water use this summer, conserving more during this drought than most other Californians.
Data released by state officials this week show how frugal the Valley’s city dwellers have become with water.
Example: Oakdale residents used 24 percent less water this July than during July 2013, and those in Atwater used about 22 percent less.
While the average statewide savings was 7.5 percent, almost every Valley town saved more water than that.
And Tuolumne County residents really cut back. Those in the Tuolumne Utilities District reduced their water use by more than 44 percent, and Groveland residents used about 30 percent less.
The drought created a crisis for that county’s water supply, forcing residents to conserve or run dry.
“The community and Tuolumne Utilities District customers have done an outstanding job with water conservation during this historic drought,” said Tom Scesa, the water district’s general manager. The district eased its water restrictions this week because “now that Labor Day has passed, TUD is able to receive water through its agreement with PG&E from Pinecrest Lake.”
While Tuolumne depends on snowmelt and surface water, most Valley towns rely entirely on groundwater.
Modesto is a rarity, using both surface and groundwater for its domestic supply. Modestans reduced their water consumption by more than 11 percent this July compared with last July.
“We’ve gotten pretty aggressive on water conservation here,” said Larry Parlin, Modesto’s new director of utilities. “The overwhelming majority of people here are trying pretty hard.”
Like most California cities, Modesto now has various water restrictions, which include limitations on outdoor watering days and times. So far, Parlin said, only a couple people have ignored warnings and been fined for water violations.
To encourage cities to conserve, the State Water Resources Control Board started collecting and publishing urban water use data this summer. All but California’s smallest water districts are required to reveal how much their communities are consuming.
The state also posts data showing what percentage of each district’s water is used by residents – rather than businesses or industries – and how many people are served by each district.
Those figures enable calculations that show roughly how much water people in each community use on average. Those averages for July varied dramatically from town to town, with residents in Tuolumne County using significantly less water than those in the Valley.
Atwater, Merced and Modesto residents used the most water in July, according to the state-provided figures, but those numbers may not be accurate.
Parlin said the state statistic showing 93 percent of Modesto’s water goes to residents is wrong. “It’s probably closer to 80 percent,” he estimated. “We have a lot of industrial use … like the canneries, which are at their peak in July, August and September.”
Atwater’s water manager, Brian Shaw, said the state’s population estimate is wrong for his district because it doesn’t include the 1,500 federal prisoners who use the city’s water every day.
Rather than having the state figure things out for them, water suppliers next month are going to be required to estimate how many gallons of water each of their residents used on average. The state’s plan is to post that per-capita water usage figure every month for each community.