California’s growing water scarcity problems continue to wreak havoc in the agricultural and urban sectors. When talk moves to water conservation, the focus is predominantly on the urban sector and it is tied to percentage use reductions. Gov. Schwarzenegger has mandated a 20% reduction in urban water used by 2020. Mayor Villaraigosa called for a voluntary 10% reduction in Los Angeles water use this spring and summer, and Angelenos have exceeded the modest goal by nearly 3%. The prohibition on watering landscaping five days a week has been a major contributor to the nearly 13% reduction in water use.
Despite these incremental moves in the right direction to get us to live within our water supply means, nothing short of a bold goal is needed to really move California.
We need to ditch the use of percentage reductions to define conservation success and we need to move to a hard per-capita water use goal. Currently, the average Californian uses 175 gallons per day with the average L.A. local using about 135 gallons per day. A 20% use reduction only gets us to a per capita use of 140 gallons per day by 2020 – far above the volume of water needed to live sustainably.
Instead, the statewide per-capita goal should be 100 gallons per day of potable water use by 2020. The target is simple for everyone to understand and it is still far above the average per-capita water use in nearly every country throughout the world.
The 100 by 2020 goal provides incentives for lawn replacement, xeriscape, waterless urinals, cisterns, and expanded water recycling. The city of L.A. Should adopt this goal in conjunction with a new water recycling goal of at least 100,000 acre feet of recycled water per year by 2020: a doubling of the current, modest goal of only 50K acre feet per year.
Keep in mind, the 100 gallons per day figure is based on potable water use, not all water used, so it still provides a tremendous incentive for rainwater capture and use, and water recycling. This means that if integrated water management was tied to per-capita use rather than percentage reduction, the overall water use per capita (potable plus recycled plus captured rainwater) will remain similar to current use with far less environmental impact, while dramatically and quickly improving water conservation.
I urge LADWP, the Metropolitan Water District, and even the state of California to adopt this bold goal as soon as possible so we can move from small incremental water use reductions to the paradigm shift necessary to sustainably balance ecosystem protection with the agricultural, industrial and personal needs of the public.