Californians conserving less water as historic drought enters Year 6

Significantly lower water levels in the San Luis and Anderson reservoirs are causing algae to grow in more shallow, warmer waters producing the more 'earthy' flavor


State regulators said Wednesday they fear some water districts in drought-stricken California have abandoned conservation efforts as saving has dropped off significantly.

Californians saved less than 18 percent in August, down by nearly 10 percent from a year earlier, the State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento reported. The figures are compared to the same period in 2013, a year before a drought emergency was declared in the state.

"We're at yellow alert," said Felicia Marcus, chair of the board, expressing alarm at the numbers and wanting to know what's going on with increased use. "I'm not ready to go to red alert until we figure it out."

California is heading into a possible sixth consecutive year of drought with uncertainty of what this coming winter will do to ease the historic dry spell, officials said.

Last winter, a near-average amount of rain and snow fell mostly in Northern California, prompting officials to relax conservation efforts by turning over control to local water districts.

Water districts on the south coast were among the highest water users, state officials reported.

Poor performing districts include La Habra in Orange County, Casitas Municipal Water District in Ventura County, Lake Lee Water District in Riverside County and Norwalk, a city of just over 100,000 residents in Los Angeles County. Representatives for the districts did not immediately respond to requests for comment by The Associated Press.

Websites for Lee Lake and Norwalk feature images of gushing fountains. At least seven water districts used more water in August than before the drought, officials reported.

Officials highlighted 114 water districts, however, for saving more than 20 percent in August than before drought. They include Sacramento, Alameda County Water District and San Gabriel Valley Water Company.

Each district is responsible for telling its residents how much -- or whether -- they should cutback based on an analysis of their projected water supply and demanded for the next three years.

After calling for voluntary cutbacks, Gov. Jerry Brown at the height of drought last year, ordered residents to cutback by 25 percent.

Californians' water conservation remained steady at 20 percent in July, just one percentage point below June's savings of 21 percent, officials reported. The figures are compared to the same period in 2013, a year before a drought emergency was declared in the state.

Some communities are doing a good job of conserving, but some aren't, said Max Gomberg, a senior climate scientist for the state water board, adding that in January regulators will consider returning to state-mandated water restrictions.

"We never know what the winter's going to bring," Gomberg said.