Californians Get Serious About Saving Water but Aren't Sharing the Pain Equally

A report shows that water consumption fell 13.5 percent in April—rich communities, though, are still hogging an increasingly rare resource.

A dry canal running off the Colorado River Aqueduct in Hayfield Lake, California, on May 18. (Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Jun 3, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Todd Woody is TakePart's editorial director, environment.

The stick apparently works.

As California’s catastrophic drought takes a turn for the worse, Gov. Jerry Brown on April 1 ordered the first statewide mandatory water restrictions on the pain of steep penalties. By month’s end, Californians had reduced their water use by 13.5 percent—a significant savings over the miserly 3.9 percent savings in March, according to a new report.

Yet state officials were not celebrating on Tuesday when they released the latest water consumption data.

(Graph: Courtesy California State Water Resources Control Board)

“We hope the improved conservation rate for April shows that residents and businesses stepped up to begin to meet the call for greater conservation in the face of this historic and ongoing drought,” Felicia Marcus, the chair of the State Water Board, said in a statement. “While these results are a step in the right direction, there are still too many lush landscapes where irrigation must be reduced to meet the 25 percent statewide reduction mandate.”

One reason for the tempered response was the temperature in April: The month was cooler and even a bit wetter than in past years. That means Californians probably were not watering their lawns as much.

April Weather Conditions chart
(Graph: Courtesy California State Water Resources Control Board)

Whether they will show such restraint in the coming hot months remains to be seen. The state’s snowpack has already all about disappeared, meaning there will be no runoff this summer to replenish reservoirs and rivers that supply water to cities and farms.

RELATED: Apocalypse Soon: California’s Snowpack Is Gone

Californians may have used less water in April, but the pain was not shared equally: Wealthy Southern California enclaves continue to consume far more water per person than poorer communities.

Residents of Martinez, a working-class Northern California town, for instance, cut their consumption 17 percent to just 32 gallons of water per person a day in April from March, the lowest rate in the state, according to the report. Meanwhile, in Rancho Santa Fe, a San Diego suburb of sprawling estates that ranks as one of the nation’s wealthiest, residents increased their water use by 16 percent from March to April, to 427 gallons a person each day—the highest in the state.

Collectively, Californians have cut water use just 9 percent since June 2014, meaning more severe restrictions and penalties are likely to be required if the state is to meet Brown’s mandate to reduce urban water use by 25 percent.