FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Californians cut water use by 27 percent in August, marking the third consecutive month that residents and businesses surpassed the 25 percent conservation goal set by Gov. Jerry Brown to deal with the relentless drought, officials said Thursday.
The figures released by the State Water Resources Control Board showed a slight decrease in savings from the 31 percent posted for July — a development that raised concerns among some officials.
However, board chair Felicia Marcus said the slippage was not completely surprising given the heavy rains that drenched Southern California in July and prompted people to turn off sprinklers.
"The fact the numbers didn't drop precipitously shows that people get it," she said. "In a crisis people pull together and they hang in there."
The savings figures were derived by comparing current usage to levels from the same period of 2013, the year before Brown declared a drought emergency.
The board also released figures showing how much water was saved by communities and how that compared to the state conservation mandate given to each area.
A total of 406 water suppliers reported water use in August. The figures showed that six communities missed mandated targets by more than 15 percent.
Regulators have given alternative targets to two of the communities, including Livingston, where a large chicken processing plant has counteracted conservation by the 15,000 residents.
Regulators have been considering imposing fines on communities that consistently fail to meet goals. The penalties could begin early next year, said Max Gomberg, a senior climate scientist for the state water board.
Regulators also say they are working to help cities and water districts meet targeted cuts. Some communities, however, are not expected to meet the goals, Gomberg said.
"We will issue some fines," Gomberg said. "That is definitely on the table."
Officials say 72 percent of water suppliers did meet their conservation standard. Among the top performers were the city of Morgan Hill near San Jose, which used nearly 43 percent less water, and the California WaterService Co. Selma near Fresno, which reduced water use by 40 percent.
Morgan Hill sent email and social media reminders to residents to conserve, and consumers now get monthly reports that include usage during the past 13 months and a comparison to other households, city spokeswoman Maureen Tobin said.
"They're listening, and they're doing their part," she said.
Some of the state's largest cities also reported meeting their mandates.
Officials in Los Angeles said the city saw savings of 17 percent in August, beating its target of 16 percent. Fresno reported a 28 percent drop, hitting its requirement.
Water use in San Diego was 21 percent lower, officials said, exceeding its mandated cutback of 16 percent.
Gomberg warned that Californians can't be distracted by hype involving a coming El Nino weather pattern.
He said an El Nino doesn't guarantee a wet winter for California and urged people to keep saving water.
Gomberg said climate change — signaled by warmer temperatures, a low snowpack and intense wildfires — has made water conservation an ongoing effort.
"Climate change is not something that's happening in the future," he said. "California is already dealing with the impacts."
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