Californians fall short of mandate (December 2, 2015)

SACRAMENTO — Californians failed to meet Governor Jerry Brown’s water conservation mandate last month for the first time after four months of exceeding the 25 percent goal, according to data released by the State Water Resources Control Board on Tuesday.

Outdoor water use typically begins to drop as temperatures cool, according to a report released Tuesday by the SWRCB, but the statewide conservation rate was 22.2 percent in October, which was down from 26.4 percent in September.

SWRCB Chair Felicia Marcus said above-average temperatures in October contributed to the decline in statewide conservation.

We anticipated a dip in the conservation rate for October, Marcus said, but it is not because people are losing interest — they actually did quite well considering how unusually hot it was in October.

Overall, Californians have reduced water use by 27.1 percent in the five months since emergency conservation regulations took effect in June, which remains above the governor’s mandate.

Local water users followed the statewide trend as none of the Victor Valley’s municipalities or water companies met their individual mandates; however, several fell just shy.

Adelanto customers showed the biggest increase toward their 20 percent mandate, saving 18.6 percent in October.

In previous months, Adelanto’s conservation ranked with Phelan Pinon Hills Community Services District customers among the lowest in the Victor Valley, but statistics show that customers in Adelanto have improved numbers each month starting in July when the city’s conservation stood at a mere 10 percent.

Apple Valley Ranchos customers fell less than one percentage point short of their 28 percent mandate — saving 27.3 percent in October — and Ranchos’ Superintendent of Operations Carol Thomas-Keefer told the Daily Press the decline is not surprising.

As each month’s conservation goals are measured against the same month two years ago, residents are having trouble using less water than they did in October 2013 because outdoor irrigation — a huge water-user — becomes a smaller part of the equation in the fall and users have fewer areas where they can cut back.

A great deal of typical residential water use happens outdoors during warmer months, Thomas-Keefer explained via email, and that’s the water use that is most easily cut back. Now that we’re in fall, the weather is much cooler, and outdoor water use declines as people cut back on landscape irrigation and pool maintenance. Residents now have less opportunity to reduce their water use, because their water use is now mostly indoors, and many of us have already installed low-flush toilets, high- efficiency washing machines, and other indoor water-saving devices.

Achieving significant water reductions by way of indoor water use is much more difficult, according to Thomas-Keefer, because there is simply not as much opportunity to save water.

Despite the setback, Apple Valley Ranchos customers — some of whom paid significant drought surcharges when they used more than Ranchos’ 32-unit allotment — remain on target to save water above their mandate when the cumulative numbers are tallied in February.

In Victorville, customers conserved to the tune of 24.4 percent in October compared to 2013 but they were short of the city’s 28 percent mandate.

Golden State Water Company customers in Barstow also fell short as they conserved water at a rate of just over 18 percent — nearly six points below the 24 percent mandate. Cumulatively, Golden State, like Ranchos, has conserved above its mandate amid customers being limited to one day of outdoor water use, according to Golden State spokesman Mike Gazda.

Phelan Pinon Hills and Hesperia customers were, by far, the lowest performers in October. The mandate for the Phelan Pinon Hills Community Service District is 32 percent and customers there eked out a 9.5 percent conservation rate.

Since the SWRCB began releasing monthly conservation statistics in June, Phelan Pinon Hills has struggled to meet its mandate. In August their customers managed to conserve at a rate of 17.1 percent; however, that was the closest they came to reaching the mandate.

The district did file a petition to have their 32 percent mandate temporarily suspended and reconsidered, but it was unclear Tuesday whether that petition was reviewed by the control board.

A call made to the district’s General Manager Don Bartz proved unsuccessful Tuesday, but district officials have previously told the Daily Press that the mandate is unfair because the rural desert community had already made drastic cuts to its water usage.

The mandate in Hesperia, which stands at 32 percent, was also missed by a wide margin; customers in that city saw a reduction of 14.5 percent compared to water use in 2013.

Hesperia Mayor Eric Schmidt told the Daily Press the city is asking people to be conservative with water.

At the end of the day it’s a goal, Schmidt said. We can do our best, but we can’t shut people’s water off.

Not meeting mandates became more than a missed goal though in mid-October for three California cities and one district when the SWRCB issued its first fines.

Beverly Hills, Indio, Redlands and the Coachella Valley Water District were each fined $61,000 by the control board for not meeting their mandates, according to a Reuters report.

Director of the water board’s Office of Enforcement Cris Carrigan said Beverly Hills residents have wasted 175 million gallons of water since June.

On a cumulative basis, Beverly Hills has conserved 12 percentage points lower than its 32 percent mandate, a number that’s significant for Hesperia, Adelanto, Victorville, and the Phelan Pinon Hills Community Services District, each of which is below its cumulative mandates.

Victorville is less than one percentage point shy of its goal, but Hesperia, Adelanto, and Phelan Pinon Hills are all at least four points or more from their marks with Phelan Pinon Hills conserving at a rate nearly 15 percent from the target.

Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press