One of the biggest barriers to water conservation is the perception of conservation itself. There are many ways to look at the term conservation. It can be approached as a cost-benefit model that involves trade-offs, it can be seen as simply meaning deprivation, or it can be looked at as a healthy model of improved efficiency. Today, conservation generally refers to efficiency of use. Conservation no longer means depriving oneself or having to give up something in order to retain other benefits. Now water conservation is the ability to enhance efficiency without detriment to your water system.
Water conservation is the most powerful tool that California has in addressing water shortages. In preparation for drought conditions, it is important to place an emphasis on water conservation. It is estimated that off-the-shelf conservation can conserve 1.5-2 million acre-feet of water per year (equivalent to nearly 500 to more than 650 trillion gallons), enough water to provide 3-4 million homes with water for an entire year.
There are many approaches to water conservation. Some of the basic ones are repairing leaks, purchasing low-flow appliances, being alert to water wasting actions, native plantings, rain gardens, and "smart" sprinklers.
While most of the focus in water conservation is on changes that customers can make, it is important to also remember the changes and fixes that the water system can make. Increasing system efficiency will show regulators and your customers that you are serious about water conservation and protecting this finite resource. A simple leak detection program can save a system both water and money in the long run. Meters are another excellent tool that a system can use for water conservation. A metering program will allow a system to monitor their unaccounted for water losses and keep it under the goal of 10% losses.
Water consumption can be significantly reduced in the home without giving up comfort and convenience. One of the most common household water-wasters is leaks. A faucet leaking one drop per second wastes roughly 2,400 gallons per year, the equivalent of 160 full cycles in an automatic dishwasher! The California Water Service Group is one of many resources that provides tips and guidelines on checking for water leaks (among other conservation measures). One tip to test for a leaky toilet is to put a few drops of food coloring in the tank. If the color shows up in the bowl after 15-30 minutes without flushing then there is a leak in the toilet tank that needs repair.
Low-flow appliances are an excellent way to conserve water. Many water suppliers offer rebates to their consumers when they install low-flow fixtures. Some make it mandatory for all new structures to be equipped with low-flow fixtures. A low-flow washing machine saves 5,200 gallons of water a year! Using low-flow toilets is another strategy that many agencies have been requiring of their customers. In the past couple years, low-flow toilets have been greatly improved so they are now much more efficient and are equivalent to the older, regular toilets, no longer needing multiple flushes that some of the previous models required.
Raising the consciousness of the residents in your water system can be a very effective tool in water conservation. Residential water conservation can be achieved through minor habit changes such as turning off the tap while brushing teeth or shaving and by keeping a pitcher of water in the refrigerator so the tap does not need to run to get cold when the resident wants a drink. More conscientious residents can take further measures such as catching shower water in buckets when waiting for the shower to heat up and using the water to water plants and, where possible, washing their cars on the lawn thus using the water to irrigate the lawn.
Xeriscaping, or landscaping to conserve water, can produce a beautiful landscape that isn't necessarily cactus or other desert plantings. Planting native landscaping is another viable method of water conservation. Native vegetation is acclimated to the natural rain fall in their region, therefore, does not require much additional irrigation. The sites below all feature information on plants native to California and how they can be used in xeriscapes.
In addition to native landscaping, rain gardens are a great way to not only feature native plants but also to facilitate water absorption into the ground. Rain gardens are quick-draining, plant-filled, shallow depressions in landscapes that help draw water into the ground while naturally filtering it. A proper rain garden will absorb all the water within 48 hours, not allowing time for a mosquito breeding ground to form.
"Smart" watering systems are the up and coming stars of the water conservation culture. These smart systems can be controlled by satellite or other means to match water conditions. This would enable the watering system to "know" when it's raining so it does not water. Another option is to connect the water system to moisture sensors in the soil to determine when the land is in need of irrigation. While this new technology may not yet be economical for residential users it is highly recommended for large-scale commercial irrigators. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is even granting subsidies to commercial consumers toward the purchase of the new smart systems.
It is important for your water system to have conservation guidelines in place prior to the occurrence of a drought or other water shortage. These water conservation guidelines should call for actions to be taken at different stages in the drought to mitigate the impacts felt by all sectors. California Water Code Sections 375 and 1,009 grant water purveyors the authority to prohibit waste and require conservation when faced with a water shortage. It further allows them to call on their attorney to act as a special prosecutor for water violations. Many water systems already have such conservation guidelines in place. It is highly recommended that all water systems enact special water conservation ordinances or regulations. To see some sample conservation programs, please click on the name of the program below:
The State Water Resources Control Board has created a number of templates for water systems to use to adopt conservation plans and ordinances. These templates can be found here.
There are a number of other websites and resources available that deal with water conservation. Some of these resources include: