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California Misses Water Target as El Niño Fades

LOS ANGELES — California’s water conservation rate slid sharply in January, with the state failing to meet Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandatory 25 percent reduction order as the strong Pacific El Niño failed to deliver the rain necessary to provide a path out of devastating drought.

Californians cut water use by 17.1 percent in January, down from the 18.4 percent tallied in December, according to the State Water Resources Control Board. The January figure is the lowest statewide per-person rate recorded since mandatory water reporting requirements began in June of last year.

In the eight months between June 2015 and the end of January, the state cut water use by 24.8 percent, falling just short of Brown’s 25 percent mandatory reduction order for the first time.

“We’re hoping for every raindrop and every snowflake we can handle. We’re hoping for a miracle March and an awesome April. But we can’t know what the next couple months will bring. And a warm and dry February has proved that we can’t count on El Niño to save us,” State Water Resources Control Board chair Felicia Marcus said in a statement. “Californians have risen to the occasion as never before. But we have to stay the course. We have to keep it up.”

The current Pacific El Niño — which the NOAA has said is the strongest event of its kind since at least 1950 — has so far failed to deliver the precipitation necessary to alleviate the state’s record drought, and could turn into a “dud.”

With unusually warm temperatures affecting large portions of the state in February, the water content level in the Sierra Nevada mountain snowpack fell to 91 percent of average for this time of year, down from more than 115 percent of average in January. California relies on runoff from the Sierra snowpack for roughly 30 percent of its annual water supply.

The snowpack level will need to be at at least 150 percent of average on April 1, when it typically peaks, in order to have any chance at making a significant dent in drought relief.

Earlier this month, the State Water Resources Control Board extended the state’s 25 percent water reduction requirement through October.

“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 said while announcing the extension.

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