Californians Reduced Water Use by 13.5 Percent in April

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -

Californians are using less water, but they’ll have to conserve a lot more to achieve the mandatory cuts taking effect this month, according to the latest numbers released Tuesday.

California residents reduced overall water usage by 13.5 percent compared to the same month in the benchmark year of 2013, water officials said.

That’s the second-best conservation achievement since state officials started closely tracking water use more than a year ago, but falls short of the 25 percent cuts Gov. Jerry Brown made mandatory for cities and towns as of June 1.

April’s still-lackluster overall achievement reported by the roughly 400 water agencies in the state could raise concerns about whether Californians have fully acknowledged the drought’s severity.

This year’s Sierra Nevada snowpack, which feeds the state’s rivers, was the lowest on record — a grim image that served as Brown’s backdrop when he announced unprecedented conservation measures on April 1.

April’s best conservers included Santa Rosa, a city of 170,000 north of San Francisco, which reported a 32 percent drop compared to 2013. The city offered a host of programs to achieve this, paying residents to reduce 52 football fields’ worth of lawn and giving away 50,000 low-flush toilets since 2007.

Many communities are still falling far short.

“Fifty-thousand toilets? Really? We don’t have that kind of money,” said Alan Tandy, city manager of Bakerfield, where water use actually increased by 1 percent in the latest state count.

Besides offering some modest rebate programs for water conservation, the working-class city of farms and oil rigs was finding it “difficult to get the word out to everybody” about saving, Tandy said.

The Southern California coast, a region including Los Angeles and San Diego, cut just 9 percent in April, compared to a 20 percent reduction in the San Francisco Bay Area and 24 percent in the Sacramento area.

Among cities of 40,000 or more, the steepest reduction in the state, 45 percent, was reported by the water company serving Livermore. The worst was Escondido, reporting a 20 percent increase.

Water districts missing their targets face potential fines of up to $10,000 a day once June numbers are in, although a far more likely outcome will be state-ordered changes in local regulations, like tougher limits on lawn-watering.

Each community was assigned a reduction target, with some ordered to cut back as much as 36 percent.