Soapbox

Water efficiency must become a permanent California habit

A drip irrigation emitter reduces water use at a home in Folsom. Today 75 percent of the state remains in drought. While recent rains give hope for a better water year in 2017, if there is one lesson learned from this historic drought, it is that a few storms aren’t enough to reverse the impacts of limited rainfall and hotter temperatures.
A drip irrigation emitter reduces water use at a home in Folsom. Today 75 percent of the state remains in drought. While recent rains give hope for a better water year in 2017, if there is one lesson learned from this historic drought, it is that a few storms aren’t enough to reverse the impacts of limited rainfall and hotter temperatures. rbenton@sacbee.com

In 1993, California became the first state in the nation to require seat belts. Despite protests that this mandate limited personal freedom, the reality is that by “buckling up” millions of lives were saved. Today, 20-plus years later, seat belt use has become a habit, not an inconvenience.

A few weeks ago, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration released draft recommendations to develop water use targets for water suppliers and to improve drought planning as part of a new statewide framework to permanently use our state’s precious water supplies more wisely. The draft report identified statewide measures to eliminate water waste, strengthen local drought planning and resilience, and improve agricultural water use efficiency. The plan represents a shift from statewide mandates to the new water use targets and takes into account local conditions.

As the general manager from a Southern California water agency serving 875,000 people, we place a premium on ensuring the Inland Empire’s future economic prosperity while protecting the environment.

And, as the head of the California Building Industry Association, the statewide trade association representing homebuilders, contractors, architects, engineers, designers and suppliers, we heavily scrutinize any proposed mandate on our members’ behalf. The building industry has historically played a significant role in California’s economic strength and its success is crucial to California’s economic recovery. We’re also proud of our members’ efforts to reduce water use in newly constructed homes.

The association has worked with local and state government officials in developing and instituting mandatory water and energy efficiency best practices, resulting in the passage of updated building and plumbing fixture standards that recently required a further 20 percent reduction in indoor water use. Overall, new three bedroom single-family homes with four occupants use 50 percent less water than homes built in 1980.

We support Brown’s call to “make water conservation a California way of life” and applaud the state for proposing a more equitable approach. We cannot ignore the facts that make the governor’s proposed permanent water efficiency standards necessary.

The last four years were the driest in the state’s history. More droughts loom in our future, primarily due to the effects of climate change and a growing population. Expert projections, underscored by temperature and rainfall trends over 20 years, indicate that future droughts will last longer and be more devastating.

Brown acted responsibly in 2015, when he directed urban water suppliers to reduce water use by 25 percent in response to the statewide drought emergency. California’s water agencies stepped up, even while arguing about across the board cuts, and reduced their water use statewide by 24 percent.

Do we still need to conserve? Today 75 percent of the state remains in drought. While recent rains give hope for a better water year in 2017, if there is one lesson learned from this historic drought, it is that a few storms aren’t enough to reverse the impacts of limited rainfall and hotter temperatures.

Even if we get ample rain – and more importantly snow – this winter, Californians cannot return to “normal” water use from the past. We must face the reality: Increased periods of water scarcity will continue. All Californians must adapt to the realities of climate change.

Thankfully, measures like those proposed – increasing efficiency through customized water use targets, reducing leaks and eliminating wasteful practices such as hosing down sidewalks – are broadly recognized as the least expensive and fairest way to ensure sustainable water supplies.

Now is the time for Californians to “buckle up” for the future and make greater water efficiency a permanent habit. It’s an opportunity California can’t afford to lose.

Dave Cogdill, a former member of the state Senate, is president and chief executive officer of the California Building Industry Association. Contact him at dcogdill@cbia.org. Joe Grindstaff is the general manager of the Inland Empire Utilities Agency. Contact him at jgrindstaff@ieua.org.

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