SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - Citing record temperatures, California's drought regulator said Thursday residents combined to save 17 percent in January and for the first time have sunk below Gov. Jerry Brown's 25 percent savings order.
Californians have now missed Brown's conservation goal for a fourth straight month, but the State Water Resources Control Board said it's confident residents can still meet the governor's nine-month cumulative savings plan. Since June, the state has combined to cut urban water use by 24.8 percent compared to 2013 levels - amounting to more than 1.1 million acre-feet in the middle of a relentless drought.
"Californians have risen to the occasion as never before," water board chair Felicia Marcus said. "But we have to stay the course. We have to keep it up."
The water board said water savings in the winter is less noticeable than in summer, and that the unseasonably warm temperatures likely contributed to the low conservation number.
The state met the 25 percent savings goal in each of the first four months, but conservation rates have steadily declined since October. January's 17.1 percent is the lowest since the mandatory restrictions began in June.
While Californians fell behind the cumulative savings threshold in January, average use per capita declined to 61 gallons - the lowest monthly per-person rate since reporting began in June 2014.
Thursday's news comes as much of the state is experiencing sizzling February temperatures. Many Northern California cities, including Sacramento and Redding, have shattered high-temperature marks several times this month.
Along with the stretch of warm weather, a wet start to the winter has slowed to a halt. A series of El Nino-driven storms in January spiked statewide snowpack totals, but as of Wednesday the snowpack is 92 percent of normal.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor's latest report, 61 percent of the state is in extreme drought and more than 36 million Californians reside in drought areas.
Marcus said that while El Nino has not had the desired effect on the state's drought, she remains optimistic it will bring more snow to the Golden State.
"We're hoping for a miracle March and an awesome April," Marcus said.
With Brown's initial drought order set to expire in February, the water board voted earlier this month to extend the mandatory statewide water restrictions another nine months. The water board said the extension allows more flexibility for water suppliers and sets a more reasonable cumulative urban water use savings target of 20 percent.
Since June, the water board has fined four water suppliers for failing to meet conservation goals and sent out a total of 97 warning letters.
If Californians fail to meet the 25 percent goal by the end of February, there won't be any "big alarms going off," officials said.
"I don't think there's going to be any statewide consequence," water board chief enforcement officer Matthew Buffleben said.