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California misses water savings target
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FRESNO  (AP) — Residents of drought-stricken California used 18 percent less water in December and for a third straight month fell short of the 25 percent conservation mandate set by Gov. Jerry Brown, state officials said Tuesday.
However, the State Water Resources Control Board reported at a meeting in Sacramento that California will likely beat its long-term conservation goal.
California has saved a combined 25.5 percent since Brown issued the mandate in June calling for savings from 2013 use rates, the agency said.
Average monthly water use declined from 76 gallons for each person in November to 67 gallons in December, the second lowest rate since water-use reporting began in June 2014, officials reported.
State water managers are also looking ahead to April 1 — when the Sierra Nevada snowpack is historically at its deepest before melting and feeding rivers and streams.
Its depth then will signal whether drought conditions are easing after the state’s driest four-year period on record.
“We’re at halftime,” state water board chair Felicia Marcus said in an interview. “We’re not doing too badly, but we certainly haven’t won the game yet.”
On Tuesday, water content of the snowpack measured 130 percent of its historical average for this time of year.
Under a light snowfall, snowpack survey chief Frank Gehrke plunged a measuring pole into 76 inches of snow near Echo Summit in the Central Sierra region that includes Lake Tahoe.
“It’s certainly a very encouraging start to the winter,” said Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources.
Still, he said, the state needs to see storms each week to ease the drought.
The snowpack provides nearly one-third of California’s water supply during months when it melts and rushes through rivers and streams to fill reservoirs.
An electronic measurement collected by more than 100 sensors throughout the Sierra has shown the snowpack at 114 percent.
El Nino storms have raised the snowpack to levels higher than the state has seen in five years, officials have said.
Still, major reservoirs and underground water supplies remain critically low.
Marcus said she anticipates the state water board will extend Brown’s emergency conservation order through October. The regulations, which expire this month, have drawn criticism from water districts.
Under the proposed regulations, especially hot and dry inland communities might be able to get a slight cut in their conservation targets.
Communities with fast population growth, and districts that have developed desalination plants, wastewater-recycling plants or other sources of water might also get a break.
The proposal doesn’t go far enough to reward communities that have invested millions of dollars to protect supplies during times of drought, David Bolland, special projects manager at the Association of California Water Agencies, said in a letter to the state water board.
Bolland urged state officials to replace the emergency regulations with long-term water policy.
“Such an approach must fully consider existing and future investments in sustainable and emergency supplies,” he said.