Good habits die hard, it seems, after five years of epic drought – for most Californians, anyway.
The historic dry spell from 2012 to 2016 prompted many state residents to reduce their water consumption, as did strict regulations imposed by state agencies and individual water districts. Whether they wanted to or not, urban Californians reduced their use of the state’s most precious resource by about a quarter.
Now, after mandatory conservation targets were lifted in April following a very wet winter, many Californians continue using less water than they were prior to the drought. In Sacramento, Los Angeles, most of the San Francisco Bay Area and Orange County, urban residential water use is down between 20 and 26 percent since 2013, often used by water agencies as the benchmark year for pre-drought water consumption, according to the State Water Resources Control Board.
That said, water conservation is already slacking off a bit – and more in some areas than in others. In the summer of 2015 – the height of the drought – Californians’ savings on water use peaked at about 25 percent of 2013 levels. A report from the State Water Resources Control Board shows statewide savings on urban water use for June 2017 totaled 17 percent. In other words, though we’re still using less water than we were in 2013, our consumption is rebounding.
Heather Cooley, the water program director for nonprofit Pacific Institute, says such a post-drought uptick in water use is to be expected.
“We see this looking back at other droughts, like in the late 1980s and early 90s,” she said. “People cut their water use, and then it rebounds a little, though never to pre-drought levels.”
Andrea Pook, a spokeswoman for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, says she expects the rebound in post-drought water use to be slight, at most. That is because people are better educated now in water use efficiency than they were just a few years ago, she said in an email. Not only that, many Californians installed more efficient appliances during the drought and replaced water-hogging lawns with drought-tolerant California native plants – actions that should translate into permanent savings.