06/10/2014 09:44 am ET Updated Jun 10, 2014

Fixing California's Water Problems Is Easier Said Than Done

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It’s going to take more than polite asking to get Californians to conserve water while the state suffers through its worst drought in history.

Governor Jerry Brown’s call for residents to voluntarily reduce their water use by 20 percent in January has seemingly fallen on deaf ears in many Northern California counties, an analysis by the San Francisco Chronicle found, forcing officials to consider mandatory cutbacks for the first time in decades.

Between February and April, East Bay customers reduced water use by just 3 percent, while San Francisco customers made some strides but still fell short with just an 8 percent cutback. Even with one of the most successful conservation efforts, city officials told the Chronicle that they may soon do what nearby Pleasanton and Dublin have already done: introduce mandatory rationing for the first time in more than 20 years.

The most troubling statistics can be found in San Jose, where NBC Bay Area reports 2014 water use has increased 3-4 percent from the same period last year. There, officials say getting residents to change their water habits is easier said than done.

“You can’t flip the conservation switch on and off," John Tang of the San Jose Water Company told NBC.

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission spokesperson Tyrone Jue echoed Tang’s sentiments.

“It's easy for someone to say, ‘Yeah, I'm conserving water. I'm turning off the water when I brush my teeth. I'm not watering (outdoors) as much,’” he told the Chronicle. “We need them to do a little more.”

In May, the U.S. Drought Monitor announced that all of California was experiencing “severe” drought for the first time this century, with a majority of the state’s conditions considered “extreme” and “exceptional.” The situation, climatologist Mark Svoboda told The Huffington Post last month, has made for a “once-in-a-generation conversation.”

Some municipalities are offering residents financial incentives to make more costly changes, including programs in Sacramento and Southern California that are offering residents cash rewards to rip out their lawns and replace them with water-wise landscaping.

Aside from watering lawns, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency points out that some of the household’s biggest water guzzlers are older model toilets, standard showerheads, low-efficiency washing machines and unchecked leaks.