New water conservation figures from the California Water Boards are expected to be released on Oct. 5, and senior climate scientist Max Gomberg says he's "concerned" by the numbers.
"We're concerned that conservation levels are continuing to drop off as we enter a sixth year of exceptional drought," Gomberg told The Associated Press. He declined to provide specifics prior to the formal release of the report, but did note that some communities are conserving more than others.
The numbers come after a year of shifting policy on water conservation. In Jan. 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed an executive order implementing statewide emergency drought measures, according to the state of California. These measures were revised in Nov. 2015, when Brown issued another executive order directing the Water Boards to "consider modifying its existing restrictions ... to incorporate insights gained from existing restrictions."
In Feb. 2016, the Water Boards announced its new measures, which took into account certain factors that affect water use, including "hotter-than-average climate, population growth and significant investments" in conservation infrastructures like wastewater recycling and desalination.
Policy shifted again in May, when the Water Boards announced that it was loosening its oversight. Under these revisions, the state mandated "conservation standard" dropped to "zero percent." Instead of conservation targets, the new measures relied on a "stress test" strategy, which required water suppliers to demonstrate that "they have at least a three-year water supply under extended drought conditions."
Any supplier who projected a shortage of water in 2019 "must meet a state-imposed conservation standard equal to the shortage level," according to a Water Boards fact sheet. "For example, a supplier with a 12 percent shortage will now have a 12 percent conservation standard."
These revisions to the drought policy rely on suppliers to "self-report," and the Water Board says "the majority of suppliers ... passed the 'stress test.'"
After the measures took effect in May, California saw a statewide conservation rate of 21 percent in June, according to AP. That rate dropped to 20 percent in July. The figure for August is expected to be released on Oct. 5.
According to Gomberg, regulators will reconsider whether to return to state-mandated conservation standards in January.