While the ongoing drought has highlighted the need for Californians to rein in their water consumption, statewide water use data shows that the North Coast's already off to a good start.
Data from six Humboldt County water providers show that the average Humboldt County resident uses about 110 gallons of water per day, significantly less than the statewide average of 196 gallons, according to California Department of Water Services data.
Arcata Environmental Services Director Mark Andre said that while city residents are on the right track with 119 gallons per capita, they can "do even better."
"We'll all be challenged statewide to continue to be more efficient with natural resources like water in drought years like this," Andre said. "No one could have anticipated this drought, but we still need our water system to be resilient."
Andre said that water metering on houses has gone a long way in promoting reduction of water use.
"It's pay by use so people are mindful and do not have a flagrant use of water, at least on the residential side," Andre said. "Good use of water saves energy for the whole city, which pays dividends to our ratepayers."
The McKinleyville Community Service District pegged its usage rate at 110 gallons per capita. District General Manager Gregory Orsini explained the reason the rate was so low was due to its "relatively new homes" containing water efficient fixtures and the district's active community outreach.
"We work with a couple different after school programs and recreation programs," Orsini said. "We send kids home with information on how to use less water. We also publish a newsletter two to three times a year."
Each water supplier's per capita data is part of its "urban water management plans," which it is required to submit every five years. As a way to meet the goal of reducing Arcata's per capita use to 110 gallons by 2020, Andre said the district will be doing its own part by fixing leaks and upgrading old infrastructure.
"We have an old piping network so there is unaccounted use of water from leaks," he said. "We'll also be replacing larger storage tanks, such as the redwood tanks that do not retain water as well."
Humboldt County 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace said that communities should now be addressing water conservation.
"While we certainly have concerns about state water use, we also should focus on efforts for water conservation," he said.
Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell said she is currently on an ad hoc committee to discuss ways the county can incentivize people who set up water storage systems on their property.
"If people have water stored already, we'd be one step ahead of the game," Fennell said. "I think that people in the rural areas are pretty aware at this point that water has to be managed."
To arrive at the per-capita totals, each water provider added up all residential, government and business use and divided by population over a consecutive 10-year period they chose between 1995 and 2010. The totals do not include agriculture, which uses 80 percent of the water that people consume in California.
A review of the 355 cities and water districts in the Department of Water Services database shows other patterns:
* Places with hot weather tend to use the most water. Coastal cities, which enjoy cooler summers and lots of fog, consume relatively little. Santa Cruz residents use only 113 gallons per capita per day. Crescent City averages only 97 gallons a day. But in the Central Valley, Inland Empire and Southern California desert areas, where the blazing summer sun requires more water use on landscaping, residents use three or four times that much. In Riverside County, customers of the Coachella Valley Water District use 591 gallons per capita per day.
* When cities have few residents but a lot of industry, the numbers can be skewed. The city of Vernon in Los Angeles County, for example, has only 112 residents but dozens of factories, meatpacking plants and other water-guzzling industries within its city limits. As a result, its per capita water use is highest in the state by far -- 94,111 gallons per person per day. Statewide, however, industries account for only about 8 percent of urban water use, compared with 68 percent for residential use and 24 percent for commercial and government use.
Paul Rogers and Nicholas St. Fleur contributed to this report.