FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Residents of drought-plagued California fell just short of the state's mandated water conservation target over the nine months that ended in February as they let lawns turn brown, flushed toilets less often and took other strict measures, officials said Monday.
Residents statewide used 23.9 percent less water over those nine months compared to the same months in 2013.
The savings were shy of the 25 percent water cuts that Gov. Jerry Brown ordered last year for users in cities and towns.
Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, called it an "enormous effort" in saving water, despite the missed target.
"Californians rose to the occasion, reducing irrigation, fixing leaks, taking shorter showers and saving our precious water resources in all sorts of ways," she said.
Water saved in the nine-month period is enough for nearly 6 million Californians for one year, officials said.
Californians saved just 12 percent in the month of February — less than half the target ordered by Brown.
February was the final month of reporting under the governor's 25 percent savings mandate — a standard that has been relaxed to 20 percent.
The state is now in the fifth year of drought, even though an El Nino weather system delivered a near-average year of rain and snow in some parts of the state.
State officials say that might impact the outcome of a workshop planned later this month to consider the best approach for conservation.
Key reservoirs in Northern California are brimming after El Nino storms drenched the region. However, Southern California saw relatively little precipitation, leaving most of its reservoirs low.
By April 1 — typically the end of California's rain and snow season — the state was left with a nearly average snowpack and few hopes of more significant storms.
Regulators said any changes to the emergency conservation order that are made during the upcoming workshop would take effect in June.
Marcus said it will be difficult creating new regulations for more than 400 individual water districts in different regions — some recovering from drought better than others.
Decisions also are complicated because Southern California depends in part on water from the north, where El Nino was the strongest.
"But it's a challenge we love having, compared to the past few years," Marcus said.
This story has been corrected to say Californians used 23.9 percent less water for the nine-month period ending in February, rather than for the month of February alone.