Santa Clarita water use up, but residents still keeping eye on conservation


Following statewide water-use trends, Santa Clarita-area residents increased their consumption by about a third in the summer months compared to monthly totals from 2015, and were conserving at about the same rate as the state overall, comparing 2016 usage to 2013, when drought restrictions were put in place.

That’s according to data released Wednesday by the state Water Resources Control Board, and from data and anecdotal information provided in interviews with local water-company officials.

The overall figures prompted state water regulators to worry that some areas have become less vigilant in conserving since the state lifted mandatory conservation orders.

Overall, California cities and towns saved less than 18 percent on water in August, compared to the period before Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency, according to the Water Resources Control Board. The amount saved was down 36 percent from August 2015, when urban Californians were under Brown’s order to cut water use by 25 percent.

Ken Peterson, general manager of the Valencia Water Company, reported that, in August, his customers used 17 percent less water than they did in August 2013. In comparing 2016 figures to 2013 figures, Peterson reported that Valencia Water Company usage dipped 27 percent in June, 22 percent in July and 21 percent in September.

But in month-to-month comparisons between 2016 and 2015, Valencia Water usage numbers increased nine percent in June, 31 percent in July, 29 percent in August and 27 percent in September.

Basically, Peterson indicated, those numbers reflect increased water use between ’15 and ’16 but not an abandonment of conservation.

Matt Stone, GM of the Castaic Lake Water Agency, reported similar trends in his company’s Santa Clarita Water Division.

“We’re up (from overall 2015 usage) but still down from 2013 in the range of about 18 to 20 percent,” he said.

Compared to 2013 numbers, Stone reported 2016 conservation rates at 22.3 percent in June, 17.1 percent in July, 13.7 percent in August and 18.3 percent in September in the Santa Clarita Water Division.

That contrasts with 2015 drops in usage of 31.1 percent in June, 38.6 percent in July, 33.8 percent in August and 37.6 percent in September.

“For the four months referenced … the average conservation level was 35.3 percent in June-September of 2015 and 17.9 percent in June-September of 2016,’’ Stone said.

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

“A general message we’d like to continue to share with our water customers is to water only to the level of need for the landscape, but to check for excessive moisture in the soil, as well as runoff onto sidewalks and gutters,’’ Stone said.

“These are indicators that watering is too frequent or sprinkler run times are too long and more water is being applied than can be used by the landscape.  Also, with fall coming, the frequency and duration of outdoor watering can be cut back from summer levels.’’

Officials from the Newhall Water Company did not return a call made late Wednesday.

On a state-wide level, “We’re at yellow alert,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the Water Resources Control Board.

Water regulators would be looking closely at the causes for the increased water use, Marcus said, adding “I’m not ready to go to red alert until we figure it out.”

Tracy Quinn, a Southern-California based water expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that easing water-use restrictions might have been a mistake.

“It’s very clear that, at least in this drought, voluntary conservation hasn’t been successful,” Quinn said. “What got us the savings we need is mandatory conservation throughout the state.”

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.

In Norwalk, city official Adriana Figueroa cited a record-keeping error by the local water supplier, and said the city still has all its drought-time water use restrictions in force.

At least seven water districts used more water in August than before the drought, officials reported.

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