GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (AP) — Californians conserved less water in June, the first month that statewide drought restrictions were eased following a winter of near average rain and snowfall, state officials said Thursday.
As the state endures a hot, dry summer in a fifth year of historic drought, water managers reported that Californians used 21.5 percent less water in June than they did in 2013, a drop of 6 percentage points from a year earlier.
The monthly report comes as state officials begin returning conservation efforts to local cities and water districts after a return to more typical winter precipitation, mostly in Northern California.
Water districts throughout the state pushed regulators to drop mandated conservation that had required cutbacks up to 25 percent compared with 2013. That was the year before Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency.
A dip in conservation was expected after the statewide mandate was eased, and conservation overall remained high, said Felicia Marcus, water board chairwoman.
"The community spirit of realizing that water is something to treat with respect and not take for granted is holding," Marcus said. "Most importantly is for people to keep the lawn on a water diet."
The state has cumulatively reduced water consumption by 24 percent over the last 13 months, close to the 25 percent target, water board officials said. That amounts to 571 billion gallons of water saved, enough to provide 8.8 million people with water for a year, said Max Gomberg, of the water board's Office of Research, Planning and Performance.
Water districts argued that the blanket mandate didn't give many of them credit for investing millions of dollars in water recycling and desalination plants or other means of making them drought-proof.
Starting in June, districts that show they have enough water to get through another three years of drought could relax conservation — or completely escape strict conservation orders.
Garden Grove in Southern California has ample water supplies, said William Murray, the city's public works director. It draws water from an underground aquifer that is refilled with treated waste-water.
The city, however, won't lift its strict bans on washing cars without a turnoff nozzle and running sprinklers more than twice a week until officials in Sacramento approve its drought plan. That could come by the end of August.
The city's 186,000 residents look forward to turning on the sprinklers often enough to have grassy, green parks again for playing soccer and relaxing, he said. "In some parks it looks like residents are playing in a dust bowl," Murray said.
Elena Perez, a 65-year-old retired restaurant hostess, said she wants the city to use water carefully, but the park where she and other residents use exercise equipment and children take swim lessons could use a little boost.
"We need the plants and the trees," she said.
German Adame, a 58-year-old busboy, said he's cut back on watering the lawn at home during the drought. He said he's not sure whether the city should boost watering at the parks — even if that means the grass dries up.
"I think if there's a problem, it's not a good idea," he said.
In many communities, there is no need to live under emergency conditions, said Tim Quinn, executive director of Association of California Water Agencies, the nation's largest coalition of public water agencies.
"If you are a resident of California getting water from responsible water agencies ... you don't have to put a bucket in your shower," he said. "You can flush when you need to."
Cooper reported from Sacramento, California. Associated Press writer Scott Smith contributed from Fresno, California.