On Tuesday, the California state water board announced that in December Californians met governor Jerry Brown’s water conservation goal of cutting water use by 20 percent for the first time. The monthly report, which brings together a survey of more than 400 local water departments, showed that water use fell by 22 percent in December compared with the same month in 2013.
While the state remains gripped by a devastating dry spell, with three-quarters of it in extreme drought conditions, December was a rare rainy month in the years-long drought. This likely helped residents meet the conservation goal as less water was required for irrigation and lawn watering.
“It reinforces what we thought all along that the extent of outdoor water use is a huge driver of water conservation and water use,” said board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus.
If some hoped December might be the start of a rainy trend, those aspirations were harshly and abruptly dashed in January as the Bay Area experienced its driest January on record with San Francisco recording no measurable rain for the first time in 165 years. January is normally the state’s wettest month, and precipitation then helps build up the critical snowpack that the state relies on in the drier spring and summer for drinking water. As of the end of January, snowpack stood at about 25 percent of the average — unpromising by any metric, but still higher than last year’s 14 percent.
An October poll from the Public Policy Institute of California found that for the first time since 1988, when the poll started, Californians placed water at the top of their list of concerns. 26 percent of respondents to the statewide survey said “water, drought” were the most important issues facing the state right now, a statistical tie with “jobs, economy” which got 29 percent as the PPIC poll had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.5 percentage points.
Last January, Brown officially declared a drought emergency in the state, and in doing so asked residents to slash water use by 20 percent or more. Until December, the closest Californians had come to meeting that goal was in August when water use dropped almost 12 percent year-over-year.
California’s aquifers aren’t just suffering from lack of rain and overuse. A report this week from the San Francisco Chronicle found that oil companies have been injecting chemical-laden wastewater into drinkable water sources underground — and they’ve been doing so with regulator’s permission. While the revelation that oil companies are dumping wastewater into California aquifers is not knew, the investigation showed the extent of the problem.