A little more than a year ago, California’s Gov. Jerry Brown ordered mandatory water reductions of 25 percent throughout the state. And in some areas, citizens were ordered to reduce consumption by 35 percent. This was all in response to more than four years of severe drought.
However, in June 2016, those mandatory reductions were lifted, mainly because the state was blessed with considerable rainfall the previous winter. As a result, local water agencies were given the authority to determine on their own whether mandatory water reductions were still necessary and, if so, what the amounts should be.
Now that the statewide restrictions have been lifted, reports are coming in showing how well the state did at reducing water consumption—and the results have been surprisingly good, in some cases surpassing the restrictions. As of April 2016, California’s Water Resources Control Board reported that water consumption was down more than 26 percent compared to April 2013. On a per capita basis, Californians were using more than 104 gallons of water per day in 2013; they are now using about 77 gallons per day…nearly 25 percent less.
Researchers also began looking to see if this reduced water consumption translated into a reduction in energy use in the state as well. There is actually a very close connection between water use and energy consumption.
Electricity is used to pump water to and from public and commercial facilities and residences. In addition, it is used to treat water, pump water into storage tanks, divert it from water sources to nearby communities, and release it into waterways as wastewater.
Researchers at the University of California at Davis found that when Californians reduced water consumption by 24 percent, it saved more than 922,500 megawatt hours of electricity—enough to meet all the power needs of 135,000 houses per year. And because we create electricity primarily using petroleum and natural gas, this amounted to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of nearly 220,000 metric tons, the equivalent of taking 50,000 cars off the road, according to the University.
Looking deeper, the mandatory water-conservation measures resulted in a savings of about 460 gigawatt hours (GWh) between July 2015 and September 2015. That is almost the same amount of energy saved (459.4 GWh) through all the energy-conservation programs put in place by the state’s largest utilities—Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, Southern California Gas Company, and San Diego Gas and Electric—which provide electricity to 80 percent of residents.
While many residents and commercial facilities did take advantage of these energy-conservation programs, it appears the bulk of the water/energy reduction was simply through short-term water conservation efforts as well as long-term initiatives to use water more efficiently.
So what does this tell us, and how does it apply to the other states in the country and countries around the world? Simply, when we reduce the amount of water consumed, it reduces the amount of energy needed to transport and treat water. By reducing the amount of energy needed to transport water, we also reduce the amount of greenhouses gases released into the atmosphere.
With less electricity needed for water consumption, water utilities realize a cost savings as well. These cost savings put less pressure on the utility companies to increase rates and provide more money to help rebuild America’s water infrastructure, which currently is projected to cost about $1 trillion and going up.
With all this positive news, we can now answer our question, “Did California stop mandatory water-conservation efforts too soon?” The answer is no if the state’s businesses and residents turned these “water-conservation” efforts into “water-efficiency” efforts. Water efficiency, so we are clear, relates to long-term measures to reduce water consumption such as selecting restroom fixtures that use less or no water.
After four years of drought, considerable evidence demonstrates that water use throughout the country is becoming more efficient. For one thing, more and more water reducing and more water efficient technologies are being introduced that help reduce water consumption. These technologies are finding their way into facilities throughout the country and around the world—all helping to reduce water consumption and protect our environment.
Klaus Reichardt is CEO of Waterless Co. Inc, Vista, Calif. Reichardt founded the company in 1991 with the goal to establish a new market segment in the plumbing fixture industry with water conservation in mind. Reichardt is a frequent writer and presenter, discussing water conservation issues. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Source: Tara Lohan, “Water Conservation Saves Energy in California,” KQED Science, June 9, 2016, http://ww2.kqed.org/science/2016/06/09/water-conservation-saves-energy-in-california/