California water officials extended the state’s mandatory conservation rules for an additional nine months on Tuesday, as residents fell behind in meeting water savings targets for a third consecutive month.
The rules, which mandate a 25 percent reduction in statewide water use to help conserve supplies during California’s punishing drought, were extended past their mid-February expiration date through October, according to a release from the State Water Resources Control Board.
“After four years of extreme drought, there is still a need for Californians to keep up their stellar conservation practices,” State Water Resources Control Board chair Felicia Marcus said in a statement. “This updated regulation acknowledges that need, while making adjustments in response to feedback from water suppliers and others.”
“If we continue to receive a lot of rain and snow in February and March, we may scale back the conservation requirements further, drop them, or move to another approach,” Marcus added.
California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order last year giving the water board authority to extend or scrap the conservation requirements as it sees fit. The extended regulations keep intact the state’s 25 percent reduction target while providing slightly reduced requirements for cities that can prove they have successfully cut water use, invested in recycling or desalination programs, or have added a significant number of new residents.
The decision to extend the conservation requirement comes as the water board reported Tuesday that Californians cut water use by 18.3 percent in December, down from 20.4 percent in November and 22.2 percent in October. While the state failed to meet the 25 percent target over each of the past three months, it remains on track to satisfy the larger, year-long 25 percent target, barely, thanks to better-than-average conservation gains made in the hot summer months, when water use typically spikes due to an increase in outdoor irrigation use.
The extension also comes as powerful storms brought on by the strongest El Niño weather pattern since at least 1950 have delivered much-needed rain to California’s depleted reservoirs and snow to the Sierra Nevada mountains. As of Wednesday, the Sierra snowpack measured 114 percent of average for this date, according to the Department of Water Resources.
However, the snowpack must measure at least 150 percent of average on April 1, when snowpack levels peak, in order to for the drought to be considered ended. California obtains roughly 30 percent of its water supplies from the Sierra snowpack.
“While the recent rains and growing snowpack are wonderful to behold, we won’t know until spring what effect it will have on the bottom line for California’s unprecedented drought,” Marcus said in a statement announcing the December conservation figures. “Until we can tally that ledger, we have to keep conserving water every way we can. Every drop saved today is one that we may be very glad we have tomorrow.”