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California Cuts Water Use By 29 Percent

A sign at the Lopez Ridge Park in Mira Mesa saying irrigation is off in the area because of the drought, June 15, 2015.
Brooke Ruth
A sign at the Lopez Ridge Park in Mira Mesa saying irrigation is off in the area because of the drought, June 15, 2015.

California's drought-stricken cities set a record for water conservation, reducing usage 29 percent in May, according to data released by a state agency Wednesday.

Regulators hope the savings will last through summer as California communities are under order to cut water use by 25 percent compared to 2013 levels. Gov. Jerry Brown ordered his mandatory conservation order in April.

Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board enforcing Brown's order, said the results show it's possible to meet steep conservation targets.

"It's gratifying that far more communities are stepping up, and we want to see this much more through the summer," Marcus said. "It ends up putting off the need for much harsher rationing, which has greater impacts on people and the economy."

The city of San Diego decreased its use by 26 percent as compared to May 2013. The state-mandated cutback target for the city of San Diego is 16 percent.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer asked San Diegans to continue to conserve by following new city regulations to reduce outdoor irrigation.

"While the numbers for May look promising, we should keep in mind that unexpected rainfall also contributed to the lower usage," Faulconer said. "The best way to conserve is to reduce outdoor irrigation by abiding by the two-day-a-week watering restriction set countywide."

The water board said customers of the Valley Center Municipal Water District saved the most in San Diego County on a percentage basis — 48 percent.

The Santa Fe Irrigation District, frequently criticized for high water use among residents in affluent Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach, saw a 42 percent reduction during the month.

Other city and water district results for May in the region, according to water board data:

— city of Poway, 45 percent

— Rincon del Diablo, 43 percent

— Vallecitos, 38 percent

— Lakeside and Olivenhain, 37 percent

— Padre Dam, 36 percent

— Ramona, 32 percent

— city of Oceanside, 31 percent

— Helix and Vista, 29 percent

— Carlsbad and Fallbrook, 28 percent

— Otay, 27 percent

— city of Escondido, 25 percent

— Sweetwater Authority, 24 percent

— San Dieguito, 18 percent

California is in a four-year drought that has devastated some rural communities, prompted some farmers to leave fields unplanted or tap expensive water supplies and dented fish populations. Many cities have avoided the brunt of the dry spell because of backup supplies and preparation, but the governor wanted conservation efforts ramped up with no clear end to the drought in sight.

May's water savings were the best showing since the state started tracking conservation last summer. The report followed several months of tepid conservation, 13.5 percent in April and 4 percent in March.

The data is self-reported by more than 400 California water departments and includes residential and business consumption. All regions of the state showed improvement.

Conservation may have been skewed by rain in parts of the state in May, which reduces the need to water lawns. Regulators have been encouraging Californians to let their lawns go dry this summer as the easiest way to save large amounts of water and maintain local supplies if the drought continues.

The water board has assigned each community a mandatory conservation target between 4 and 36 percent, depending on how much water residents used last summer, that will be tracked between June and February. Cities that don't meet these targets face fines or state-imposed restrictions on water use.

Some have complained these targets are unfair because it doesn't take into account water savings made before the drought or how secure local supplies are. The city of Riverside is suing the water board over conservation, saying it has ample groundwater supplies.

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