Conserving California’s water


Today, Snow and McIntyre consider how best to conserve water. Previously, they discussed the political urgency of fixing the state’s water crisis, the proposed peripheral canal around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, population growth and the filtering of ocean water.

Conservation without the pain
By Lester Snow

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
By Mindy McIntyre

Nice goal; here’s some action:

It is a pleasure to agree with you, Lester, that water conservation is critically important to California’s future. There is no question that California must take measures to reduce water consumption. The governor and his administration’s call for a 20% reduction in per capita water use is a very good start. However, in order to actually implement that call, the governor will need to take water reductions as seriously as he has taken reductions in greenhouse gases, and make this the AB 32 of water.

We’ve seen in the past that statewide goals mean very little without dedicated momentum and directed implementation plans. In 1992, the state set a legally mandated “goal” of producing one million acre feet of recycled water by 2010. We are way off target toward meeting that goal, with only half of that production in place in 2008.

Fortunately, this governor has delivered on big initiatives before. When the governor took an interest in the very critical issue of climate change, he signed into law AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. His action put into motion major statewide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas production in California by 25% by 2020. All state agencies are engaged in developing real implementation measures to deliver those reductions.

As with climate change, the legislature is considering passing two measures that would provide the governor with the policies and mechanisms to meet his water goal. Those two complementary components are Assembly Bill 2153 and AB 2175.

As I mentioned on Wednesday, Assemblyman Paul Krekorian’s (D-Burbank) AB 2153, the Water Efficiency and Security Act, would decrease per capita water use. AB 2153 would require new development to be water efficient, and would implement a mechanism to fully mitigate all water demand from new development. The act would provide a powerful water-reduction tool that is not reliant on state bonds or existing water customers’ water rates.


Another crucial component of implementing the governor’s targets is AB 2175, which would promote increased water use efficiency by establishing numeric water-savings targets for urban and agricultural water use. AB 2175 would require the state to adopt a comprehensive water conservation plan with feasible, cost-effective water conservation targets. Each water agency in the state would then be required to develop plans for implementing its share of the conservation target.

If passed by the legislature, these two complementary bills would provide the action, action, action that is necessary to implement the governor’s call and ensure that California effectively increases water efficiency. Without real action, California will not reduce water consumption. Instead, our people, economy and environment will experience the fallout of poor water planning.

Mindy McIntyre is the Planning and Conservation League’s water program manager.

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