Four out of six Coachella Valley water districts reduced their water use in August 2022 compared to 2020 as local and state officials continue to stress the need for additional water conservation, according to data released by the State Water Resources Control Board this week.
Myoma Dunes, Coachella Valley Water District, Mission Springs Water District, and the city of Coachella’s Water Division all decreased their August water use compared to August 2020, following a trend of reduced water use that began in June. In May and other previous months, local water districts actually increased, rather than decreased, their water use compared to 2020 baseline numbers.
In July 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom called for Californians to reduce water usage by 15% compared to 2020 levels amid historic drought conditions. Climate change has contributed to the western United States experiencing one of the worst droughts on record, with a recent study finding that the current megadrought beginning in 2000 is the driest in at least 1,200 years. More than 94% of California is currently experiencing severe, extreme or exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The Coachella Valley recently moved into the moderate drought category.
Hotter and drier weather is expected to reduce California’s water supply by up to 10% by 2040, and the state's Water Supply Strategy, released in August, sets a goal of reducing 500,000 acre-feet of water use annually through more efficient water use and conservation. One acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to serve one to two households per year.
To meet this goal and solidify the idea that "conservation is a way of life" in California, state officials are working on a potential third emergency conservation regulation that would set limits on indoor and outdoor residential water use.
The potential residential indoor standard would start at 55 gallons per person per day through 2025, then drop to 47 gallons until 2030, then drop further to 42 gallons after 2030, Charlotte Ely, conservation supervisor at the State Water Resources Control Board, told the state water board Monday.
The Department of Water Resources also provided recommendations on outdoor water use to the State Water Resources Control Board in late September.
In addition to these standards, the emergency regulation would involve identifying percent reductions for each urban retail water supplier in the state, Ely said. She added that the likelihood of implementing this regulation seems "very likely" as drought conditions persist.
Two other emergency conservation regulations, including the ban on watering non-functional turf, took effect earlier this year.
How local districts ranked in August
Myoma Dunes again posted the most water savings in the Coachella Valley in August, reducing water use by 19.3% compared to August 2020, making it the only Coachella Valley water district to meet the 15% goal in August. However, Myoma Dunes also has one of the state's highest per-capita water use numbers, providing the water district with more room to cut than other districts in the valley and across the state.
Coachella Valley Water District and Coachella’s Water Division cut back their August water use by 5.8% and 0.4%, respectively. Mission Springs Water District reduced its water use by 3.9%.
Meanwhile, Desert Water Agency saw a slight increase of 1% in August, and water use in Indio Water Authority increased by 5.7%. However, Indio, along with Coachella and Mission Springs Water District, typically use much less water per capita than the other three agencies in the valley, leaving them with “less fat to trim,” as Coachella Utilities Manager Castulo Estrada previously told The Desert Sun.
The other three water districts consistently have among the highest per capita water use in the state. In August, Myoma Dunes ranked third out of over 400 water districts in the state for per capita water use, Desert Water Agency ranked fourth, and Coachella Valley Water District ranked ninth.
Gallons per day per residential customer in August:
Myoma Dunes: 377
Desert Water Agency: 349
Coachella Valley Water District: 310
Indio Water Agency: 171
Coachella Water Division: 116
Mission Springs Water District: 131
Local water districts have also taken issue with the state’s use of 2020 as a baseline year, since the Coachella Valley's seasonal population and tourism were impacted by the pandemic that year, resulting in fewer visitors and less water use than normal.
Indio Water Agency noted this in its monthly report to the state with August data, stating “While report requests permanent population, Indio has seasonal visitors, which are not accounted within service area.” The water agency also noted increasing development as a potential reason for increased water use.
Statewide, the average gallons per day per residential customer in August was 105 gallons, the second lowest August figure in the past decade. The lowest was 101 gallons in 2015, when the state issued its first-ever mandatory water restrictions.
The state overall reduced water use by 10.5% in August compared to August 2020. Cumulatively, statewide water use is down by 4% from July 2021 to August 2022 relative to the 2020 baseline.
None of the Coachella Valley water agencies have yet reached a cumulative reduction of 15% from July 2021-August 2022 compared to the same months in 2020, although Myoma Dunes is currently closest with a cumulative reduction of 8.7%.
July 2021-August 2022 water use compared to the 2020 baseline:
Myoma Dunes: Down 8.7%
Desert Water Agency: Down 3%
Coachella Valley Water District: Up 1.2%
Indio Water Agency: Up 2.4%
Coachella Water Division: Up 6.3%
Mission Springs Water District: Down 2%
Less than 20 of the roughly 400 water districts in the state have reached that cumulative 15% goal so far, with many of those districts concentrated in the northern part of the state. However, 94 water districts reached the 15% reduction for August 2022 versus August 2020.
Local conservation actions
Local agencies started seeing reduced water use following several new restrictions on water that took effect in June, including a statewide ban on watering "non-functional" turf in the commercial, institutional, and industrial sectors that took effect June 10.
In June, the State Water Board also adopted an emergency regulation that required urban water suppliers to implement their Water Shortage Level 2 demand reduction actions by June 10. These actions vary by district, but in the Coachella Valley, they largely include regulations like banning spray irrigation during daylight hours and requiring restaurants to only serve water upon request.
Local water agencies have also increased turf conversion rebate amounts and upped their water waste patrols, and CVWD customers will also receive higher water bills if they fail to reduce their monthly outdoor water use to 10% below their outdoor water budget.
In August, Rancho Mirage added another $750,000 to a turf rebate program with CVWD due to high demand, bringing the city's total funding to $2 million. The program doubles the reimbursement amount offered by the water district to people interested in changing their landscaping to save water.
Palm Desert approved a similar program last month, allocating an initial $1 million to offer an additional $3 per square foot for residential landscape conversions, doubling the amount offered by CVWD.
And this week, Desert Water Agency added $2 million to its grass removal rebate program, doubling the program's budget so that more customers could apply for the $3-per-square-foot rebate, which was increased from $2 per square foot in July.
DWA estimates that for the average front or backyard, the incentive provides about $4,500 to replace grass with water-efficient plants or artificial turf.
“Removing grass is the best thing most property owners can do to reduce their water footprint,” Desert Water Agency Board President Kristin Bloomer said in a press release Tuesday.
According to DWA, more than 70% of water in the Coachella Valley is used outdoors.
Other parts of Southern California are seeing stricter cuts to outdoor watering. The Metropolitan Water District took the unprecedented step of limiting outdoor watering to one day a week starting June 1 for millions of Southern California residents in Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties, and officials there have also warned that they could institute a full outdoor watering ban as if conservation does not improve.
Erin Rode covers the environment for the Desert Sun. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @RodeErin.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Drought: Coachella Valley water districts conservation in August