- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 2, 2016

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (AP) - Californians conserved less water in June, state officials said Tuesday in releasing results from the first month that statewide drought restrictions were eased after a winter of heavier precipitation in the northern half of the state, which supplies most of the water.

Statewide consumption was down 21.5 percent in June, a drop of 6 percentage points from a year earlier. The dip was expected after local water agencies pushed regulators to drop mandated conservation that had required cutbacks up to 25 percent compared with 2013, the year before Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency.

Among them was Garden Grove in Southern California, where the city’s public works director, William Murray, said residents are looking forward to returning life to sandy soccer fields.

“In some parks it looks like residents are playing in a dust bowl,” Murray said.

The city draws water from an underground aquifer that is refilled with treated waste-water. It won’t lift its strict bans on washing cars without a turnoff nozzle and running sprinklers more than twice a week until officials in Sacramento approve its drought plan. That could come by the end of August.

Elena Perez, a 65-year-old retired restaurant hostess, said she wants the city to use water carefully, but the park where she and other residents use exercise equipment and children take swim lessons could use a little boost.

“We need the plants and the trees,” she said.

German Adame, a 58-year-old busboy, said he’s cut back on watering the lawn at home during the drought. He said he’s not sure whether the city should boost watering at the parks - even if that means the grass dries up.

“I think if there’s a problem, it’s not a good idea,” he said.

Despite the rise in water use statewide, conservation overall remained high, said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board.

“The community spirit of realizing that water is something to treat with respect and not take for granted is holding,” Marcus said. “Most importantly is for people to keep the lawn on a water diet.”

The state has cumulatively reduced water consumption by 24 percent over the last 13 months, close to the 25 percent target, water board officials said. That amounts to 571 billion gallons of water saved, enough to provide 8.8 million people with water for a year, said Max Gomberg, of the water board’s Office of Research, Planning and Performance.

Water districts argued that the blanket mandate didn’t give many of them credit for investing millions of dollars in water recycling and desalination plants or other means of making them drought-proof.

Since June, districts that show they have enough water to get through another three years of drought could relax conservation - or completely escape strict conservation orders. Water-saving efforts may drop further in coming months as more cities ease their rules and residents adjust.

In many communities, there is no need to live under emergency conditions, said Tim Quinn, executive director of Association of California Water Agencies, the nation’s largest coalition of public water agencies.

“If you are a resident of California getting water from responsible water agencies … you don’t have to put a bucket in your shower,” he said. “You can flush when you need to.”

___

Cooper reported from Sacramento, California. Associated Press writer Scott Smith contributed from Fresno, California.

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