State water leaders are calling on Californians to increase their water conservation as the 2009 water year draws to an end. Proclaiming Sept. 1 as “Save Our Water Day” at the California State Fair, officials from the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the state’s leading water association asked local communities to pledge to increase conservation efforts.

“California’s water shortage is real and it is critical,” said DWR Director Lester Snow. “With the new water year beginning next month, a fourth dry year could well be ahead and the consequences of a continued drought could be dire for our state’s economy and environment.”

Snow was joined by Timothy Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, as the two discussed conservation to water leaders from throughout California. They spoke before the backdrop of the two organizations’ joint 4,000 square-foot “Save Our Water” exhibit, a statewide program educating Californians about the state’s water challenges and how to conserve at their home and work.

“Local water agencies around the state are taking aggressive action to step up conservation and educate their customers on the need to use less water,” Quinn said. “Californians are responding, with water savings reported in many areas. Those efforts are even more important as we brace for a potential fourth dry year. The ‘Save Our Water’ effort will continue to be critical to keep the public focused on the need to conserve.”

The 2009 water year ends Sept. 30, marking the end of a third consecutive year of drought for the state. As it stands, cumulative storage for major reservoirs in California is at 70 percent of average for this time of year, with many of the state’s larger reservoirs at extremely low levels. Nearly every major reservoir is below its historical average of water storage and the majority of them are at less than half of their capacity. (for example, Lake Oroville is at 39 percent of capacity, Lake Shasta is at 43 percent and San Luis Reservoir is at 19 percent).

While it is difficult to predict the weather for 2010, state officials must prepare for the worst. Another year of drought will have severe impacts on both the economy and the environment. Even when normal rainfall returns, the state will continue to experience water shortages due to several factors, including the lasting effects drought, measures to protect fish species, California’s growing population, increasing pressure on the state’s water storage and delivery system, and climate change.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, legislative leaders and community stakeholders continue to discuss long-term solutions to the state’s water problems. Conservation has been and will remain a critical component of the Governor’s comprehensive approach to solving the state’s water crisis.

The “Save Our Water” program was launched in April by the Association of California Water Agencies and the Department of Water Resources in response to Schwarzenegger’s statewide drought proclamation in February. Patterned after the successful “Flex Your Power” public education program, the program aims to provide ongoing education for Californians about the state’s water challenges and encourages greater water conservation.