(CN) — California’s urban water use jumped 8 percent in September compared with a year ago, the fourth straight month that conservation totals have plunged after drought regulators loosened mandatory restrictions.
September’s cumulative savings totaled 18.3 percent over 2013 levels, falling well below the state’s 23 percent average since regulators implemented mandatory drought laws in June 2015.
The California State Water Resources Board said that while a majority of Californians remain stingy at the tap during the state’s historic drought, there’s room for major improvement.
“Overall, we’re happy to see millions of Californians and many water agencies continue significant conservation. Conversely, we’re concerned to see some agencies return to using hundreds of gallons per person per day while saving little,” water board chair Felicia Marcus said in a statement.
In May, the water board revised and relaxed statewide conservation orders that gave the state’s more than 400 water suppliers a cumulative 25 percent water savings target.
But conservation totals have dropped each month as a result, and environmentalists and the Natural Resources Defense Council have called on the state to bring back stricter drought laws.
“The state board has failed the people of California by letting water agencies off the hook for mandatory conservation,” the council’s water policy analyst Tracy Quinn said in a statement. “As we face a potential sixth year of unprecedented drought, it’s critical that we reverse this backsliding trend by returning to mandatory conservation targets and adopting a suite of strong permanent conservation measures.”
On Tuesday, the water board highlighted a handful of cities and water districts for their dramatic spikes in water use. Consumption levels jumped 25 percent for the San Juan Water District in Sacramento County, and savings also dropped for the LA County Waterworks District 29 serving Malibu.
San Juan Water District officials were vocal critics of the statewide 25 percent conservation order. A recent Los Angeles Times article blasted the district for its backslide since the mandatory restrictions were lifted.
Regulators said last month they will reassess the relaxed orders if the drought persists or if statewide conservation totals continue to drop.
The water board’s monthly update came on the heels of an extremely wet October for most of Northern California, the site of the Golden State’s largest reservoirs. Sacramento received 4.41 inches of rain, making it the fourth wettest October in recorded history.
The early fall storms are likely to improve October’s conservation totals, but the rain did little to ease California’s drought. Over 60 percent of the state remains in severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
“Considering that the majority of precipitation typically occurs between January and April in any given water year, we have a long way to go before we know whether we’ll make another significant dent in the drought,” Marcus said.