Conservation without the pain
California needs to set the standard for water conservation.
Many communities have already invested in water efficiency and reaped the benefits from such programs as drought-tolerant landscaping and appliances that use less water. Last summer, water agencies throughout the state successfully implemented voluntary conservation programs to curb water use, after one of the driest winters on record.
But we know there is a lot more that can be done.
The California Water Plan Update estimates that up to one-third of current urban usage could be saved each year with existing technologies. This includes installing efficient sprinklers and drought- tolerant landscaping; expanding the use of water meters and upgrading an estimated 10 million toilets that were installed in houses and offices before the 1990s.
Last month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for a 20% reduction in per-person water use in urban areas by 2020. Urban water users consume 8.7 million acre-feet per year, and under this plan, Californians would save enough water to serve more than 2 million families a year.
Water conservation has other important benefits. Lowering water demand stretches our water supplies and reduces pressure on the delta.
It saves energy that would otherwise be needed to pump and move water, and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Saving water saves money too. Because most Southern Californians have seen water costs increase significantly in recent years, stretching those supplies through conservation make good sense.
The state is prepared to help communities make these changes. The Department of Water Resources recently announced that it will give $35 million in grants for local water agencies to implement water conservation programs.
This includes nearly $5 million to improve water-efficient landscaping, with two of the largest awards to the city of Los Angeles ($1.65 million) and the Municipal Water District of Orange County ($831,000). Landscaping consumes a large amount of urban water. About half of the typicsl home's water is used outdoors, so encouraging more efficient systems offers the greatest potential for urban water conservation.
Water is a precious resource. As our state grows, as our climate changes, as we balance environmental needs with reliable water supplies, conservation becomes increasingly important.
Lester Snow is director of the California Department of Water Resources.
An AB 32 for water