California falls short of water savings target

A Thanks for Rain sign is pictured near a Pray for Rain sign on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2016, on Merle Avenue in Modesto.
A Thanks for Rain sign is pictured near a Pray for Rain sign on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2016, on Merle Avenue in Modesto.

California’s urban residents are falling short of the state’s mandated water savings for the drought.

State officials said Thursday that water use for cities and towns was down 17.1 percent in January. That dropped the state’s cumulative urban water savings to 24.8 percent and is the first time those savings have fallen below the state-mandated 25 percent.

After several years of drought, Gov. Jerry Brown last year ordered communities statewide to reduce water use 25 percent from June through February. Officials have extended the conservation order through October, uncertain if the El Niño weather pattern will ease the drought.

The reductions are based on 2013 water use and are for potable – or drinkable – water. They vary among cities and towns based on past water use. Many Northern San Joaquin Valley communities are mandated to reduce water use 28 percent to 36 percent.

The State Water Resources Control Board reported Thursday that California is 96 percent of the way toward its goal of saving 1.2 million acre-feet by the end of February, which it called an unprecedented conservation achievement.

But California remains in the fifth year of a record drought. And the Sierra snowpack remains below average, with the state Department of Water Resources reporting Thursday it was at 91 percent of normal. The snowpack, which flows into reservoirs as its melts in the spring, provides a third of the state’s water.

“We’re hoping for every raindrop and every snowflake we can handle,” State Water Resources Control Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said in a news release. “We’re hoping for a miracle March and an awesome April.

“But we can’t know what the next couple months will bring. And a warm and dry February has proved that we can’t count on El Niño to save us. Californians have risen to the occasion as never before (to conserve water). But we have to stay the course. We have to keep it up.”

Several Stanislaus County cities did not meet their January savings goals.

For instance, Modesto – which has to reduce its water use 36 percent – saved 16.9 percent in January and has saved 28.2 percent since the mandated reductions started in June. And Turlock has to reduce its water use by 32 percent. It saved 15.2 percent in January and has saved 26.6 percent since June.

Saving water in the winter is difficult because residents and businesses use less water on their lawns and landscapes than in the summer, when water uses peak.

Riverbank had another bad month. The state water board reported the city’s January water use increased 51.7 percent. Riverbank is required to save 32 percent but has saved 7.8 percent since the mandates took effect in June. The city has worked with the state to come into compliance. Riverbank faces steep fines if it does not.

“We are very concerned,” City Manager Jill Anderson said. “Our mayor spoke at the state of the city address last night on how important it is to continue with the water conservation measures.”

She said Riverbank hopes two projects will help the city save water. One is a roughly $4 million project to replace the majority of the city’s water meters with high-tech ones that will allow customers – and the city – to track their water use. That will give customers and the city a better idea if someone has a leak or other problems that cause water use to spike.

The meters that will not be replaced are newer ones that have the high-tech features.

The other project is that the city has replaced its outdated financial software with new software that will allow the city to compare how much water it is producing vs. how much water is being used, Anderson said. That will let Riverbank know how much water it is losing to leaks in its water infrastructure. Anderson said the new software cost about $27,000, and employees are being trained on how to use it.

The Associated Press and Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316

Stanislaus County Cities

City – Mandated Reduction – January Reduction – Reduction Since June

Modesto – 36% – 16.9% – 28.2%

Turlock – 32% – 15.2% – 26.6%

Ceres – 28% – 15.2% – 24.3%

Patterson – 28% – 23.9% – 30.5%

Oakdale – 32% – 36.8% – 38.4%

Riverbank – 32% – +51.7% – 7.8%

Source: State Water Resources Control Board