Despite recent rains and a growing snowpack, many of California’s reservoirs and groundwater basins remain depleted, fueling the need for continued water conservation.
“While the recent rains and growing snowpack are wonderful to behold, we won’t know until spring what effect it will have on the bottom line for California’s unprecedented drought,” Felicia Marcus, chair of the SWRCB, said. “Until we can tally that ledger, we have to keep conserving water every way we can. Every drop saved today is one that we may be very glad we have tomorrow.”
Under the revised regulation, statewide water conservation is expected to exceed 20% compared to 2013 water use. The regulation responds to calls for greater consideration of certain factors that influence water use in different parts of the state, including hotter-than-average climate, population growth, and significant investments in new local, drought resilient water sources, such as wastewater reuse and desalination.
The regulation also directs staff to report back on additional flexibility once more complete water supply information is known in April.
The February 2 snow survey conducted by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) shows marked improvement in the state’s rainfall and Sierra Nevada snowpack water content. Statewide measurements indicate the water content in the mountains is 114% of normal for early February.
Most of the state’s reservoirs, however, are holding much less than their historical averages. Among the eight reservoirs with capacities of 1 million acre-feet or more, all are currently below average storage for February 2. In fact, the only major reservoir with current storage above its historical average is Lake Folsom, at 107%.
DWR stressed in a press release that “Four and one-third years of drought have left a water deficit around the state that may be difficult to overcome in just one winter.” Conservation, it stated, remains California’s most reliable drought management tool.
On February 2, the SWRCB also released its state water conservation update. It found that Californians have reduced water use by 25.5% since June 2015, despite a recent decline in the statewide water-savings rate.
In December, the statewide conservation rate was 18.3%, down from 20.4% in November, compared to the same months in 2013. A drop in the water conservation rate was expected during the cooler fall and winter months, when Californians use less water and there is less opportunity to save on outdoor water use compared with the hot summer months. Average statewide water use declined from 76 gallons per person per day in November to 67 gallons in December, the second lowest per-person rate since water-use reporting began in June 2014.
The SWRCB is urging Californians to keep up conservation efforts through the winter months. This includes complying with urban water supplier directives to switch to once-a-week watering schedules, and not using outdoor irrigation during and within 48 hours following a rain event.