The state water board announced Tuesday that February conservation efforts ranked as the worst in nine months, even as replenishing rain and snow were falling in Northern California.
Figures reported by local water departments showed statewide reductions of just 3 percent in February compared with baseline numbers, despite following the driest January on California record.
The dismal February conservation statistics helped prompt Gov. Jerry Brown to unveil mandatory water reductions last week, his spokesman Evan Westrup said. The governor is calling for a 25 percent drop in statewide urban water use compared to 2013, the year before he declared a drought emergency.
Local agencies attributed the poor conservation showing to February temperatures being hotter than they were in 2013, when water use was already very low.
The State Water Resources Control Board also began discussing Tuesday how to enforce new mandatory reductions, fast-tracking regulations that will likely come up for a vote next month.
Brown called on residents to voluntarily reduce water use by 20 percent when he declared the drought emergency in January 2014. But statewide conservation has only been about 10 percent, with some communities exceeding 30 percent. Water users will face fines if they do not take steps to conserve.
Meanwhile, an unusually cold spring storm brought heavy rain and hail to parts of Northern California on Tuesday and coated the mountains in snow — a welcome respite that will do little to ease the historic drought, forecasters say.
The storm brought enough snow to the Sierra near Lake Tahoe to produce near white-out conditions on roadways and a string of traffic accidents that caused the California Highway Patrol to order motorists off a 15 mile-stretch of a major highway on Tuesday afternoon.
In the Sierra, up to 6 inches of snow is expected above 7,000 feet, with 2 to 4 inches expected to accumulate as low as 3,000 feet before the system clears out Wednesday.
“It’s a pretty minimal snowstorm for a normal winter, but for the winter we have had it’s been a good one,” Officer Pete Mann said. “Whenever we go a long time without snow it always seems like there is a learning curve and as the storm progresses and people learn how to drive in the snow again it kind of tapers off.”
The storm was expected to spread moderate rain down the Central Coast to the Los Angeles basin by Tuesday afternoon before dwindling early Wednesday.
“It’s a start, but it’s just not enough,” National Weather Service forecaster Diana Henderson said.
The rain and snowfall is a big change from last week, when Brown, attending the last snowpack survey of the season, stood in dry, brown grass at a site normally covered in snow this time of year and announced he had ordered cities and towns to cut the state’s overall water usage by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels. The snowpack makes its way into rivers and streams and provides 30 percent of the state’s water.
The water board has given local water departments discretion to come up with their own conservation rules, but it has established some statewide regulations, such as banning lawn watering 48 hours after rain and prohibiting restaurants from serving water unless customers ask.
The agency also plans to have municipalities penalize over-consumption through billing rates.
Southern California’s giant Metropolitan Water District will vote next week on a plan to ration water deliveries to the 26 agencies and cities it supplies, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.
The cuts, which would take effect July 1, were proposed before the governor imposed the mandatory restrictions and are expected to drive agencies to curb demand and help meet the conservation goals.
Metropolitan last rationed deliveries in 2009 and 2010, during the previous drought.
By STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
The Associated Press contributed to this report. on vvdailypress.com