One drop at a time: California surpasses water conservation target

Water use in the Golden State fell by 27 percent last month, despite it being the hottest June on record globally.

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
Workers install artificial turf in the yard of a home in Los Angeles, Calif., on Tuesday. California is in its fourth year of a catastrophic drought.

Water use in California fell by 27 percent last month, surpassing Gov. Jerry Brown's ambitious conservation target, regulators said Thursday.

Historically, water savings occurs during unusually wet months but last month's decline came amid the world's hottest June on record.

"The June numbers tell a story of conscious conservation, and that's what we need and are applauding today," Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the water board told the Associated Press. "We need to save as much as possible. That is water essentially in the bank for a future dry year or more."

In April, Governor Brown ordered an overall 25 percent reduction in urban water use compared to 2013 levels, the state's first-ever mandatory restrictions. His administration gave each community nine months to hit assigned conservation targets as high as 36 percent.

Two-thirds of local water agencies (265 out of 411) met or nearly reached the savings target, according to data released by the State Water Resources Control Board.

The agencies that met or came within 1 percent of their mandatory water conservation target serve 27 million Californians.

Agencies that did not approach targets will be asked to account for what measures they are taking to conserve, the water board said. The worst performers will need to ramp up enforcement of water restrictions or impose new ones.

The government became stricter about enforcing these targets, last month. Agencies issued more than 9,500 penalties compared with about 1,900 in May.

Throughout the drought, there have been disagreements about who should be expected to cut back on water. Brown faced considerable criticism during the winter and spring months for not including the state's farmers in mandatory restrictions. Estimates of California's agricultural footprint suggest that farms account for as much as 80 percent of water use. In June, Brown extended cuts to include farmers with historic water rights.

But Ted Sheely, a farmer in California, wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal that argued the statistic is a “fabrication of environmentalists who want to disguise that they use even more water than farmers.”

Either way, California has a water crisis to solve.

The state is currently working to implement broad reforms, which include water-recycling projects and groundwater pumping restrictions, in addition to mandatory cuts.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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