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Californians quietly not saving much water anymore

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Conservation numbers have dropped off considerably since last year

Are drought-weary Californians ready to give up on conservation and start washing cars and watering lawns with reckless abandon? A new report from the State Water Resources Control Board suggests they might be.

The board indicates that in August, water conservation dropped to less than 18 percent savings over usage numbers before Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January, 2014. That’s down from 27 percent savings just a year earlier and a 23.3 percent average savings between June, 2015 and August, 2016.

The reduction in savings is causing some consternation among water regulators, as disappointing rainfall totals from winter’s El Niño did little to bring the state out of its historic drought.

In a press release, State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus noted that the board is eager to find out why savings have dropped off in recent months. "Are we seeing relaxation of conservation messaging and programs, or are we seeing abandonment of programs?" she said. "One may be appropriate, the other is not."

Southern California residents were particularly sluggish in conservation efforts. Of the 10 hydrologic regions in the state, the South Coast—which includes most of Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties—had the third-lowest savings numbers. Meanwhile, LADWP customers cut back just 14 percent since 2013.

Governor Brown recently signed a law mandating fines for excessive water use during times of drought. As the Associated Press notes (via KPCC), however, water regulators have recently eased mandatory savings requirements. In January, they’ll decide whether to reinstate those regulations.