FRESNO (AP) — Residents of drought-stricken California used 18 percent less water in December and for a third straight month fell short of the 25 percent conservation mandate set by Gov. Jerry Brown, state officials said Tuesday.

However, the State Water Resources Control Board reported at a meeting in Sacramento that California remains on course to beat its long-term conservation goal.

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California has saved a combined 25.5 percent since the mandate was issued in June and called for savings from 2013 use rates, the agency said.

State water managers are also looking ahead to April 1 — when the Sierra Nevada snowpack is historically at its deepest before melting and feeding rivers and streams.

Its depth then will signal whether drought conditions are easing after the state’s driest four-year period on record.

“We’re at halftime,” said Felicia Marcus, the state water board’s chair. “We’re not doing too badly, but we certainly haven’t won the game yet.”

Average monthly water use declined from 76 gallons for each person in November to 67 gallons in December, the second lowest rate since water-use reporting began in June 2014, officials reported.

Later Tuesday, water managers will plunge a measuring pole into the Sierra snowpack that includes Lake Tahoe to gauge its water content for the second time this winter.

El Nino storms by Feb. 1 had boosted the snowpack to levels higher than the state has seen in five years, officials said.

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Still, major reservoirs and underground water supplies remain critically low, officials say.

Marcus said she anticipates the state water board will extend the emergency conservation orders through October. The regulations have drawn criticism from water districts, despite efforts to ease them.

Under the proposed regulations, especially hot and dry inland communities might be able to get a slight cut in their conservation targets.

Communities with fast population growth, and districts that have developed desalination plants, wastewater-recycling plants or other sources of new water might also get a break.

The proposal doesn’t go far enough to reward communities that have invested millions of dollars to protect supplies during times of drought, David Bolland, special projects manager at the Association of California Water Agencies, said in a letter to the state water board.

Bolland urged state officials to replace the emergency regulations with long-term water policy.

“Such an approach must fully consider existing and future investments in sustainable and emergency supplies,” he said.

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