While Californians cut water use by 27 percent in August, marking the third straight month that residents and businesses surpassed a 25 percent state conservation goal, Santa Maria water users are saving below the state average.
Santa Maria saw a 16 percent water use reduction in August, more than 10 percent below the state average. The city’s progress has been waning, however. In June, water customers saved 18 percent and in July they reduced their use by 21 percent.
The city is targeting a 16 percent savings goal handed down by the State Water Resources Control Board.
“In July we had an unusual rain event, which we think kind of increased there. In August it was a long hot month – one of the hottest months on record for us – so for us to continue to achieve our conservation goals even with a continued drought and lack of rain is an accomplishment,” Santa Maria Utilities Director Shad Springer said.
The statewide figures released by the State Water Resources Control Board showed a slight decrease in savings from the 31 percent posted for July — a development that raised concerns among some officials.
However, board chair Felicia Marcus said the slippage was not completely surprising given the heavy rains that drenched Southern California in July and prompted people to turn off sprinklers.
"The fact the numbers didn't drop precipitously shows that people get it," she said. "In a crisis people pull together and they hang in there."
The savings figures were derived by comparing current usage to levels from the same period of 2013, the year before Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency.
The board also released figures showing how much water was saved by communities and how that compared to the state conservation mandate given to each area.
A total of 406 water suppliers reported water use in August. The figures showed that six communities missed mandated targets by more than 15 percent.
Regulators have given alternative targets to two of the communities, including Livingston, where a large chicken processing plant has counteracted conservation by the 15,000 residents.
The situation mirrors water woes in Solvang, where some politicians have raised concerns about tourists bedding down in hotels who are not water conscious. Despite the complaints, the city exceeded state conservation averages, saving 35 percent in August. Because the city has fewer than 3,000 connections, however, they are not legally bound to state conservation efforts.
Regulators have been considering imposing fines on communities that consistently fail to meet goals. The penalties could begin early next year, said Max Gomberg, a senior climate scientist for the state water board.
Regulators also say they are working to help cities and water districts meet targeted cuts. Some communities, however, are not expected to meet the goals, Gomberg said.
"We will issue some fines," Gomberg said. "That is definitely on the table."
Officials say 72 percent of water suppliers did meet their conservation standard. Among the top performers were the city of Morgan Hill near San Jose, which used nearly 43 percent less water, and the California WaterService Co. Selma near Fresno, which reduced water use by 40 percent.
Morgan Hill sent email and social media reminders to residents to conserve, and consumers now get monthly reports that include usage during the past 13 months and a comparison to other households, city spokeswoman Maureen Tobin said.
"They're listening, and they're doing their part," she said.
Most southern San Luis Obispo County cities also reported meeting their mandates.
In the southern part of San Luis Obispo County, cities also continued to meet their water reduction goals. Arroyo Grande saw a 36 percent reduction last month, with a goal of only 28 percent. In July the city saw additional savings with a 41 percent reduction.
Grover Beach saw a water reduction of 32 percent in August, more than tripling their 8 percent goal and hitting their highest water savings in the past three months. The city of Pismo Beach reduced water usage by 25 percent in August, hovering above their goal of 24 percent.
The City of Lompoc had a 32 percent reduction in August, well above the mandated 12 percent requirement. Lompoc had a similar reduction in June, and saw an 18 percent reduction in July.
Gomberg warned that Californians can't be distracted by hype involving a coming El Nino weather pattern.
He said an El Nino doesn't guarantee a wet winter for California and urged people to keep saving water.
Gomberg said climate change — signaled by warmer temperatures, a low snowpack and intense wildfires — has made water conservation an ongoing effort.
"Climate change is not something that's happening in the future," he said. "California is already dealing with the impacts."