This story has been updated to correctly state current Valley Water restrictions.
Californians are consuming water at higher rates, despite a dry winter that’s accelerating a third straight year of an historic drought, ignoring pleas from Gov. Gavin Newsom for additional conservation.
In March, water consumption increased statewide by almost 19% over March 2020, said Marielle Rhoderio, a research data specialist with the State Water Resources Control Board.
The March increase was the highest statewide increase the state has seen, Rhoderio said during a news briefing Tuesday.
Additionally, from July 2021 to this April, Californians reduced water use by just 3.7% despite Newsom's July 2021 request that residents reduce consumption by 15%.
The increase in consumption correlates to the dry, warm conditions experienced in March, which saw just 30% of average precipitation and temperatures 3.6 degrees warmer than average, according to Western Region Climate Center data presented during the briefing.
“This month was a lot drier and hotter and I think the numbers are quite telling,” Rhoderio said.
The U.S. Drought Monitor report from May 3 shows that 92% of California is in a "severe" drought and about 40% of the state experiencing “extreme” drought conditions.
“We've been really driving toward a regional approach in partnership with local agencies,” said Lisa Lien-Mager, a spokesperson for the California Natural Resources Agency. “A lot of local agencies are setting new targets, implementing drought contingency plans.”
Many local water agencies have already implemented restrictions.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District board voted April 12 to limit watering lawns and landscaping to no more than two days per week and never water during the warmest parts of the day.
Also, the East Bay Municipal Utility District mandated a 10% water use reduction compared to 2020 and set a limit of roughly 1,646 gallons of water per day for households, which could face fines for ongoing over-use, and has limited outdoor watering to three times per week.
“We also recognize we've made a lot of progress so far in embracing conservation as a way of life,” Lien-Mager said. “We're going to have to double down and make the most of our limited (water) supplies. We have to go further to adapt to the new normal.”
The latest surface water storage data from the Department of Water Resources shows that while two of the state's 17 major reservoirs, the relatively small Folsom Reservoir and New Bullards Bar, have above average amounts of water for this time of year, many are well below average.
For example, Oroville is at 55% of capacity, which is 70% of its average storage level, Lake Shasta is at 40% of average, Lake Sonoma is at 37%, New Melones Reservoir is at 38% and San Luis Reservoir is at 46%.
Additionally, the most recent statewide survey shows that California's snowpack is only 22% of normal for this time of year.
Following the driest three months to start a year in the state's history, Newsom on March 28 issued an executive order calling on local water agencies to implement additional portions of their state-mandated “Water Shortage Contingency Plans,” which trigger restrictions on irrigation.
He also directed the State Water Resources Control Board to consider a ban on watering grass at businesses and institutions.