California’s drought-stricken cities and towns set a record for water conservation, reducing their use by nearly 29 percent in May, according to data released Wednesday by the State Water Resources Control Board.

The May water savings was the best showing since the state started tracking conservation last year. It followed several months of lukewarm conservation, including 13.5 percent in April and 4 percent in March. The savings are based on comparing water use with the same month in 2013.

Several Northern San Joaquin Valley cities reported big savings. For instance, the reductions were 43 percent in Merced, 38 percent in Turlock, 37 percent in Modesto and 34 percent in Oakdale. Ceres reported a 24 percent reduction and Riverbank a 16 percent reduction.

And even though the water board won’t release the figures until next month, Modesto Utilities Director Larry Parlin and Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer said their cities continued to cut their water use in June, with Modesto achieving a 34 percent reduction and Oakdale a 45 percent reduction.

Parlin said based on the May and June results, Modesto may not have to impose its Stage 3 drought restrictions, which ban outdoor watering except for drip irrigation and the hand watering of trees, bushes and plants. But he cautioned that Modesto residents and businesses need to continue to be frugal in their water use.

State officials also were encouraged by the news.

“The numbers tell us that more Californians are stepping up to help make their communities more water secure, which is welcome news in the face of this dire drought,” State Water Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said in a news release. “That said, we need all Californians to step up – and keep it up – as if we don’t know when it will rain and snow again, because we don’t. If the drought continues beyond this year, we’ll all be glad we did.”

May was the last month before a state-mandated 25 percent reduction in urban water use throughout California went into effect June 1. The mandate also is based on 2013 water use and is for potable – or drinkable – water. The State Water Board is trying to achieve the overall reduction of 25 percent by imposing differing reductions on cities and towns based on their residential water used as calculated on a per-person basis. The more water used, the bigger the reduction.

The reductions range from 8 percent to 36 percent, and many Valley communities are required to reduce their water use by the larger percentages. For instance, Modesto has to reduce water use 36 percent; Turlock, Riverbank and Oakdale by 32 percent; and Ceres by 28 percent.

The data released by the water board Wednesday was reported to the board by water departments throughout the state and includes residential and business consumption.

All regions in California improved in saving water in May. The southern coast, which includes Los Angeles and San Diego, conserved 25 percent in May after months of tepid savings. Sacramento and its surrounding suburbs were the state’s top performers, cutting water use nearly 40 percent. The San Joaquin River hydrologic region – which includes the Northern San Joaquin Valley – reduced it water use 35 percent, which follows reductions of 20 percent in April and 11.4 percent in March.

The May conservation numbers may have been skewed by rain in parts of the state, which reduces the need to water lawns. Regulators have been encouraging Californians to let their lawns go dry this summer as the easiest way to save large amounts of water and maintain local supplies if the drought – which is in its fourth year – continues.

And the reward for everyone saving the water we were required by law to cut back on is everyone’s water bill will go up due to the water suppliers profits need to be fed. SMH

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