California Forum

The drought is back. Here’s how California needs to start saving water now

Sprinklers water a lawn at dusk in Beverly Hills, Oct. 30, 2015. Proposed legislation would encourage water efficiency. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Sprinklers water a lawn at dusk in Beverly Hills, Oct. 30, 2015. Proposed legislation would encourage water efficiency. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS) TNS

As Gov. Jerry Brown noted in his recent State of the State address, water is a fundamental good in California, but not something we can take for granted. With a booming population and economy, we have to make the most of every drop.

Our rivers and aquifers simply can’t support water waste, and wise use will become even more important as a changing climate brings hotter summers with less snowpack to sustain us. With nearly half the state plunging back into drought, we must act now to secure a reliable and affordable water future.

This is not about asking everyone to use less water, it’s about increasing efficiency so we have more to go around.

That’s why I authored legislation to help boost California’s climate and drought resilience by making water conservation a way of life. Assembly Bill 1668 is designed to help California live within our water means. It does that by boosting urban and agricultural efficiency and improving drought planning for small and rural communities that are most vulnerable to shortages.

Just as Californians from every walk of life must manage their household budgets, the legislation would require urban suppliers to set and meet water use targets. Rather than a one-size-fits-all standard, these targets will be based on local population, climate and land use. It will be up to individual suppliers to decide how to meet them, whether through appliance upgrades, lawn replacement, leak repair or other programs.

We know from the recent drought that Californians are capable of saving. They rose to the occasion and slashed water use by nearly 25 percent when the emergency mandate was in force. AB 1668 was designed to avoid that kind of across-the-board cut in the future, recognizing that some communities have already made big strides to increase efficiency. Customized targets will ensure communities receive credit for previous investments, while curbing the kind of water waste that puts the entire system under stress.

To be clear, this is not about asking everyone to use less water, it’s about increasing efficiency so we have more to go around. Communities that are already using water wisely will not have to do anything different. By addressing leaky pipes, outdated appliances, and other hidden inefficiencies, we can ensure everyone has what they need for washing, drinking and gardening.

Fortunately, bright minds are pioneering new tools all the time to help us maximize water efficiency. From remote sensors that help winemakers irrigate only when necessary to technology that can detect micro leaks in your household plumbing, we are seeing real growth in this sector. And with good reason: Saving water saves money on utility bills, making efficiency a smart investment for big companies as well as individual homeowners.

In this era of climate change, the energy savings and emissions reductions associated with water conservation are equally compelling. It takes a lot of electricity to clean our water, and deliver it to homes and businesses across the state.

Water treatment, distribution, heating and pumping account for about 19 percent of the state’s total electricity demand. That means water efficiency can have a big impact on energy efficiency. In fact, new research from UC Davis showed that water conservation in 2015 saved more energy than utility energy efficiency programs, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions as much as taking 111,000 cars off the road.

The governor used his State of the State speech to remind Californians that we are all in this together. We all have a role to play in creating a sustainable water future for the state. AB 1668 is a road map to help us get there.

A Feb. 1 snow survey by the Department of Water Resources in Phillips Station, Calif. revealed that, while the snowpack has tripled since last month's survey, it is still far below average.

Laura Friedman represents California’s 43rd Assembly District in the California Legislature. Reach her at Assemblymember.Friedman@assembly.ca.gov.

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