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One-third of water districts missing the mark on conservation

Beverly Hills has kept its outdoor parks and tourist attractions, like Will Rogers Memorial Park, mostly verdant during the drought, instead pushing for conservation in home landscaping, where more water is used, July 8, 2015.
Taylor Haney/KPCC
Beverly Hills has kept its outdoor parks and tourist attractions, like Will Rogers Memorial Park, mostly verdant during the drought. The city has fallen behind on water conservation, according to a KPCC analysis.

October marked the first month in which Californians failed to meet Gov. Jerry Brown's 25 percent conservation target. Officials chalked up the shortcoming to an unusually hot October and said that cumulative water savings are still on track to meet the target.

But zoom in closer on the state's data, and you'll see that more than a third of agencies have fallen behind on their water savings,  and many  may not be able to catch up.

KPCC analyzed 404 water districts that have reported each month to the State Water Resources Control Board and found that 143 of them — more than a third — have fallen behind. The numbers compare monthly water use to the same month in 2013, the year before the drought emergency was declared.

Many of those struggling are in Southern California, including Pasadena, Redlands, Fullerton and Riverside. Those districts will all have to significantly improve on their savings thus far to meet their targets. For example, the Eastern Municipal Water District, which serves more than half a million people in Riverside County, will have to cut its water use by 44 percent in the coming months just to meet its original target of 28 percent.

One water district, the Antelope Valley community of California City, has fallen so far behind on water conservation that, by the end of October, it had already used more water during the five months of reporting than the state had asked it to use over nine months.

Water use has actually fallen slightly in California City compared to 2013, but those reductions have been far short of the 36 percent cut the water board had asked of the town. In a letter posted on the city's website, Mayor Jennifer Wood wrote an increase in inmates at a nearby correctional facility, aging pipes and a new system to track municipal water use had all contributed to city's struggles to save water.

"Much has changed since 2013," Wood told KPCC, confirming that her city wouldn't meet the mandatory reduction.

Interactive: Explore water use in California

The mandatory cutbacks laid out by state officials requires urban water dial back water use in response to the state's historic drought. To make the target, some water districts have been asked to conserve more than others.

Agencies have reported water use from June through October, and with just four months left in the governor's original conservation order, water districts that haven fallen short so far will have to hustleto meet their targets. That could be especially difficult during the winter months, when opportunities for big savings are fading as temperatures cool. 

The districts lagging behind span the entire state, from Yreka in the far north to Calexico, on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Districts in the Colorado River region, in inland Southern California, are especially struggling to meet their targets. Thirteen of the fifteen districts there analyzed by KPCC are behind on their conservation efforts, a rate higher than in any other region.

Among those districts:

  • The City of Blythe, which would needs cut water use by 70% over the next four reporting months to meet its target reduction of 32%
  • The Coachella Valley Water district needs to cut water use by 54% to meet its target reduction of 36%
  • The City of Indio needs to cut use water use by 52% to meet its target reduction of 32%

Across the state, many of the districts lagging behind are relatively small, serving cities such as Vernon and Yreka. And the biggest districts, including the ones that serve Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, are on track to meet their targets.
Yet the districts falling behind serve more than 8 million Californians. Their struggles could continue if Brown extends the mandatory cuts through October 2016, as he indicated he may last month in an executive order.

77 of the 143 districts struggling to make their cuts are in the South Coast and Colorado River hydrological regions, both in Southern California.  Below are the districts in those regions that need to improve their water conservation by more than ten percentage points in order to meet their reduction targets.

Water District Conservation Standard Reduction required to meet standard, Nov-Feb
Arcadia, City of 36% 47.5%
Beaumont-Cherry Valley Water District 36% 59.2%
Beverly Hills, City of 32% 51.8%
Blythe, City of 32% 69.9%
Calexico, City of 20% 36.2%
Casitas Municipal Water District 32% 45.3%
Coachella Valley Water District 36% 53.7%
Desert Water Agency 36% 49.1%
Eastern Municipal Water District 28% 44.3%
El Centro, City of 24% 40.4%
El Segundo, City of 20% 44.4%
Hemet, City of 32% 46.3%
Hi-Desert Water District 16% 30.8%
Imperial, City of 24% 43.4%
Indio, City of 32% 52.1%
Loma Linda, City of 32% 50.1%
Los Angeles County Public Works Waterworks District 29 36% 59.2%
Mission Springs Water District 28% 43.6%
Newport Beach, City of 28% 41.3%
Norco, City of 36% 54.5%
Redlands, City of 36% 59.0%
Rialto, City of 28% 40.9%
Sierra Madre, City of 32% 49.9%
Twentynine Palms Water District 28% 52.5%
Ventura County Waterworks District No 1 32% 42.3%
West Valley Water District 32% 50.4%
Yucaipa Valley Water District 36% 65.0%