Greener Doesn’t Always Mean Better

April 3rd, 2023

As California endures through severe droughts and water becomes an increasingly scarce resource, water suppliers have the difficult task of keeping California taps running. This essential job becomes even more difficult as the state undergoes aridification, and readily available water becomes harder to find. Even worse, the cost of new sources of water can be exceedingly expensive.

Instead of focusing on new, expensive sources of water to keep the taps running, the State Water Board is planning to enact regulations to make conservation a way of life. These regulations are a modern, data driven approach to water efficiency and recognize that in a state as large and varied as California, flexibility is needed. To achieve its conservation goals, these regulations give each utility a tailored “water budget,” which takes into consideration their unique water needs, landscape area, population, and even factors as granular as the rate at which plants use water within a utility’s region. These overall water budgets are the result of a combination of smaller budgets, like residential indoor use and outdoor use, and utilities can meet their total water budget in whatever way best fits their needs. As long as the overall water budget is met, the utilities will have reached their goal.

These regulations are not only flexible, but they will also effectively save Californians the cost of new water supply. The State Water Board predicts that if these budgets are met, the state will collectively save around 6.3 million acre-feet between 2025-2040. For reference, each household in California uses between 0.5 to 1 acre-foot per year. These savings help avoid the need to invest in new sources of water and avoid other associated harmful impacts with finding new water supply. For example, not only is seawater desalination by far the most expensive source of water, it has additional costs in energy needs, greenhouse gas emissions, and harm to our coastal environment. Conservation, by contrast, carries none of those externalities.

On the ground, these regulations will cause water utilities to incentivize their customers to be more efficient. This will likely mean rebates for water-efficient appliances and programs to change out inefficient grass lawns for native landscapes. The saying goes “the grass is always greener on the other side,” but if we are going to get to the other side of some of California’s more severe dry spells, we’ll need to replace that grass with something a bit hardier. 

These types of conservation actions not only save water, they create a better environment for native pollinators and ecosystems. Even more, inefficient water practices, like overwatering or letting a leaky sprinkler run too long, causes something called “urban drool.” Urban drool picks up pollution, like fertilizers and soil from gardens or oil and grease from roadways and carries into our local waterways. More efficient water practices will help prevent this avoidable source of pollution.

As the State Water Board moves forward with finalizing these regulations, California Coastkeeper Alliance will work to ensure that conservation is made a way of life throughout the state. Stay informed of our work and our efforts to protect California’s waters by subscribing to California Coastkeeper Alliance’s monthly newsletter, becoming a lifetime member, or following us on social media: @CA_Waterkeepers

Categories: Drought & Water Conservation, Happening Now