LOS ANGELES - California residents, in a boost for efforts to deal with a devastating four-year drought, cut water use by nearly 29 percent in May to score the biggest reduction since the state governor in early 2014 called for voluntary cutbacks, officials said on Wednesday.
The reduction came just ahead of mandatory cutbacks on water consumption that took effect on June 1 under Governor Jerry Brown's order to cities and towns to curtail water use by 25 percent on average statewide. Water consumption figures for June are still being tallied.
Officials describe the drop in May as a hopeful sign going into California's hot summer months, when water use generally spikes.
California is struggling with its worst drought on record. The dry weather has damaged the state's $45 billion agriculture industry and forced officials for the first time in 40 years to limit longtime water rights for farmers and others in Northern and Central California.
The latest figures show California residents cut water use by nearly 29 percent in May compared to the same month in 2013, which was chosen as the baseline because drought-related water conservation efforts were not in effect at that time, according to the state Water Resources Control Board.
"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 Chair Felicia Marcus said in a statement.
The May cutback appears to have stemmed from increased public awareness of the need to conserve, combined with heightened use of penalties by local water districts against residents who engage in such practices as misdirecting sprinklers toward sidewalks instead of lawns, said Water Resources Control Board spokesman George Kostyrko.
Also, California temperatures in May were relatively cool, which helped keep water use in check, he said.