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Ceres fails to meet water goal in November
California struggles to meet monthly standard for second consecutive month
Midday watering
Believe it or not, some residents still feel the need to water their yards even in wet and cold months. The evaporation rate is less in winter and thus watering is not necessary. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/ Courier file photo

Ceres missed its water reduction goal of 28 percent by 4.2 percent during November. That's not a particularly good sign given that little outdoor watering was required that month in fall.

The city of Modesto also missed its water reduction goal. It fell short of the 36 percent reduction by 3.8 percent even after scaling back outdoor watering days to once per week.

Turlock and Oakdale were successful in reaching its mandates. After three straight months of not meeting Gov. Jerry Brown's 32 percent water conservation mandate, Turlock water customers delivered in November with a 33 percent water savings. Oakdale also surpassed its water conservation standard of 32 percent by nearly 14 percent.

Much of the reductions in water use is likely attributed to people turning off their sprinkler systems. The city of Ceres encourages everyone to shut down their sprinkler system during the winter months when landscape watering is not necessary. The winter and wet months provide the perfect opportunity for groundwater levels to recover. Turning off sprinkler systems maximizes the recovery of groundwater.

In late October the City Council amended its water use target for Ceres residents. The action came after it was apparent that because of warm weather, half of Ceres was destined to be fined for exceeding the October limit of 7,000 gallons per household with four persons. A household of four residents was expected to use just 7,000 gallons of water monthly in October, November, December, January, February and March. The rest of the year, April through September, residents were expected to hold water use under 27,000 gallons. The council, however, changed those water limits as follows:

• 22,000 gallons for October and March;

• 12,000 gallons for November, December, January and February;

• 27,000 gallons for April, May, June, July, August and September.

Had the policy remain unchanged, an estimated 6,558 fines would have been issued for October water use, or about half of the city. With the larger allotment to 22,000 gallons for October, about 345 households would be fined.

Ceres households who exceed the "target" by 10 percent get off with only a warning but those who exceed by 25 percent face a $25 fine; exceeding by 75 percent, a $75 fine; and exceeding by 150 percent, a $150 fine.

As part of Brown's executive order for water use reduction in cities and towns across California, the State Water Resources Control Board compares every urban water supplier's water use with their use for the same month in 2013 to determine if they are on track for meeting their conservation standard. Urban water suppliers are expected to meet, or exceed, their individual conservation standard starting in June and continuing through February.

During November, Californians were unable to meet their water conservation mandate of 25 percent for the second consecutive month with only 20.3 percent (94,236 acre-feet or 30.7 billion gallons) saved in November. This number is down another two percent from October.

In contrast, average statewide water use declined from 87 gallons per person per day in October to 75 in November-the lowest observed since the Water Board's emergency regulation went into effect.

Despite a decline in the statewide water-saving rate for the last two months, the State's cumulative savings in the sixth months since emergency conservation regulations in June still remain above Brown's 25 percent mandate by 1.3 percent compared with the same months in 2013.

This equates to over 1 million acre-feet, putting the state more than 80 percent of the way to meeting the 1.2 million acre-feet savings goal to be achieved by February.

"We expected the percentage drop in the cooler fall and winter months when we use less water in general so we are still on track," said SWRCB Chair Felicia Marcus. "The fact that per person water use dropped to 75 gallons per person per day on average is proof that Californians are clearly thinking twice before turning on the tap."

Despite recent rain and snow, most of California is still experiencing severe drought. Residential water users are urged to keep up their efforts to conserve through the winter months. That includes complying with urban water supplier directives to switch to watering schedules of once a week as well as a prohibition against watering during a rain event and 48 hours directly following a rain event.

"As welcome as recent rain and snow are, we've been in such a deep drought that we won't know until spring whether we can let up on conservation," said Marcus.

In November, Brown issued an additional Executive Order directing the SWRCB to extend and revise the emergency water conservation regulations based on conditions through January. Out for public review is a staff-proposed framework for the next iteration of the drought emergency water conservation regulation, which is intended to replace the current regulations, set to expire in the middle of next month.

Following public review of the framework, staff will release a draft update emergency regulation for public comment in mid-January. SWRCB consideration of an extended emergency regulation is anticipated Feb. 2.