How much water have Californians conserved?

Last April, facing California’s historical 4 year drought, Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order making it mandatory that statewide urban water use be reduced by 25% compared with 2013 levels starting June 2015.  In May 2015, the State Water Board adopted an emergency regulation requiring an immediate 25 percent reduction in overall potable urban water use.  Now one year has passed, how well have Californians been doing?

CA water savings since mandate started

Overall, we, the Californians have done quite a good job!  In the month of April 2015, before the emergency regulation, water reduction was a less-than-impressive 13.7%; after, it more than doubled to 29%, easily beating the 25% target.  In the next 4 months in a row, from June to September, the savings all exceeded the 25% target with a high of 31.4% in July.

As the cooler and wetter months of fall and winter rolled along, the water saving levels declined to below 25% target, they also started a month-to-month decline, from 22.4% in October 2015 down to 12% in February 2016.

The State Water Board renewed emergency water conservation regulations in Feb 2016, making it effective through October 2016.  Following the renewal, people in the state stepped up the effort again, reaching an impressive 24.3% of water reduction in March.

Overall Result

Statewide the total savings from Jun 2015 to Mar 2016 achieved 23.9% compared with the same months in 2013, which equates to 1,295,703 acre-feet (422.2 billion gallons).  How much is this amount of water?  It is enough to supply the whole population of California for 2 months!

Watering for Outdoor Landscaping

How can this much of the water saving be achieved?  A huge part of the answer lies in the savings from lawns and outdoor landscaping.

Watering for lawns and outdoor landscaping can account for over 50% of daily water use in many areas; to achieve a 25% reduction it is imperative that watering for lawns be cut back significantly.  In addition to traditional measures such as reducing the length and frequency of watering, the most effective way is to convert a lawn to a water efficient garden.

The Department of Water Resources targets to replace 50 million square feet of lawns and ornamental turf with drought tolerant landscapes.  To that end, it has been providing funding for lawn replacement programs; some water companies and local agencies also provide their own rebate programs. See some of the rebate programs here.

A water efficient garden doesn’t need to be bare and plaid, with just cactus plants.  Instead, it can be full of beautiful blooms, colors, and all kinds of different plants.  Here you can see some of the garden designs.

To calculate how much water you can save by converting a lawn to a water efficient garden, check out the calculator.

Overall, while collectively we have all done a pretty good job conserving water, we can continue with our efforts and do even better.  To build a water efficient garden is one of the best ways to go.


California’s drought over?  Not yet; Still need to conserve water?  Yes

Do all the rains brought about by El Nino end California’s historical drought?  The answer is No.   While the rains definitely helped ease the drought, they did not end it.  As you can see from the graph below, statewide snowpack stood at way lower than average from 2012-2015;  in 2015, that level went down to a really low 5%.   In Spring 2016, while the rains brought by El Nino helped put the level back to 85%, one season of rain fall simply is not enough to offset the deficits accumulated from 4 years of drought. During the past 4 years, groundwater levels dropped to historical lows; in parts of the state it was as low as 100 feet below previous historical lows.  It will take much more than what we receive so far to recover the storage.


We still need to conserve water

Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought State of Emergency in 2014; in 2015, he made it mandatory that statewide urban water use be reduced by 25% starting June.  Earlier this year, California Water Board extended the emergency and the restriction on urban water use till Oct 2016.  It is clear: We still need to conserve water, and conserve by 25%.

In the 9 months from June 2015 to Feb 2016 when the original 25% reduction mandate was effective, statewide California residents conserved water by 23.9%, just shy from the 25% target.  The data means collectively we have done a pretty good job, but we need to continue the effort, and we can still improve.

Ways to conserve water

One of the most effective ways to conserve water is to convert a traditional lawn to a water efficient garden.  Other ways include using a high efficiency toilet, shortening bath time to 5 minutes or less, collecting and using rain water, etc.