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July 16, 2014

California water use rising amid crippling drought

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Californians increased water consumption this year during the state’s severe drought, despite pleas from the governor to conserve, fallowed farm fields and reservoirs that are quickly draining, according to a report released Tuesday.

The new figures surfaced as state water regulators prepared to vote later in the day on fines up to $500 a day for people who waste water on landscaping, fountains, washing vehicles and other outdoor uses.

The numbers underscore the need for action, State Water Resources Control Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said.

“Not everybody in California understands how bad this drought is ... and how bad it could be,” she said. “There are communities in danger of running out of water all over the state.”

The report says overall consumption jumped 1 percent, even as Gov. Jerry Brown has called for a 20 percent cutback. It corrected survey results released just a month ago that said use statewide had declined by 5 percent.

The earlier survey prompted the water board to consider the most drastic response yet to California’s drought — imposing fines on water wasters.

If fines don’t work, Marcus said the board would consider other steps, such as requiring water districts to stop leaks in their pipes, which account for an estimated 10 percent of water use, stricter landscape restrictions and encouraging water agencies to boost rates for consumers who use more than their share of water.

The increased usage noted in the report is attributable to two regions of the state: Southern California coastal communities and the far northeastern slice of the state. It was not immediately clear why consumption had increased in those areas.

The report was based on consumption from May compared to the same month in previous years.

No region of California met Brown’s request for a 20 percent reduction, but some came closer than others. Communities that draw from the Sacramento River reduced consumption the most, by 13 percent, while those along the North Coast reduced consumption by 12 percent.

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