Why should you save water? And how?
Running water in a creek, a hot bath, a cool glass to drink—water is a basic human pleasure as well as our lifeline. But California does not have enough water to let us continue to use it the way we do now.
With most of its population, farming, and industry in low-rainfall areas, California has rearranged its “plumbing” more than any other state. Most of our water comes down to us from winter rain and snow in the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains. It is stored in reservoirs or pumped directly from our great rivers to cities, farms, and industry. Now this process is threatened. We in California must find ways to reduce our water use, because of:
- Drought: California periodically suffers several years of low rainfall, depleting reservoirs and river flows. We are in a period of severe drought now.
- Decreased and unstable snow packs: Because of global warming, the spring snow pack, critical to filling our reservoirs, is declining and our climate is becoming less stable. Thus in future, we will be even less able to count on winter precipitation.
- California’s water system releases greenhouse gasses, adding to global warming. A whopping 19% of California’s electricity, along with natural gas and diesel fuel, goes to treat, deliver, and heat water, mostly for city use.
- Over-committed water rights: California’s water laws have allowed competing claims to the same water, and claims for so much water that there is not enough left for nature and wildlife.
All of us need to act to keep this precious resource flowing.
Curbing water use at home
Basic information on local water use in the F5C area (Berkeley to Richmond) can be found in the City of Berkley’s Climate Action Plan. To summarize:
- Our area has cut its water use both long term and recently -- though some of this is due to economic trends such as declining industry.
- Most of our water is used in homes. While about a third of residential use is outdoors, most is indoors – with toilets, showers, faucets, and clothes washing taking the largest, and about equal, shares. Leaks, which are pure waste, follow closely.
Basic tips on reducing water use follow from this general picture:
- Outdoors, plant drought-tolerant plants, mulch, reduce lawn area (into on replacing your lawn here and here), and water sparingly (but deeply, and use timed drip irrigation if you have a system). Don’t hose down pavement (use a broom) or cars (commercial car washes recycle water).
- Indoors, fix drips and leaks, install low-flow and energy-saving appliances and devices, wash only full loads, turn off faucets, take short showers, flush toilets only as needed, and turn down hot-water thermostats and insulate pipes.
A list of almost 200 ideas, including tips for offices and kids, is here. A web search will find dozens of such lists. Find game-like material designed for teachers and/or kids here, here, or here.
Calculators to estimate use and savings: If you live in a single-family home, you can track your water use through your water bill. But totals don't tell you much about how to save water, and renters may not see bills at all. The Web offers many calculators to help you estimate your water use and see effects of specific changes. Find short descriptions and links here.
Rebates, credits, and free stuff: Wherever you live in the Bay Area, utilities, local government, and nonprofits offer ways to help the environment – and cut your bills. Find links here.
What you do as an individual isn't enough
Your actions as an individual matter. But reining in our water use and greenhouse-gas emissions to sustainable levels will take cooperation and strong public policies. Outside your home:
- Look for ways to encourage your employer, landlord, school, and businesses you patronize to conserve water. Perhaps a system for suggestions or incentives, monitoring and publicizing use, a water-use survey, or signs reminding customers/users to conserve?
- Report broken pipes, open hydrants, or wasteful irrigation to property owners and/or EB MUD (1-866-40-EB MUD 24 hours for broken water mains, open hydrants, or other emergencies)
Reaching sustainability also will need your vote, your letters and emails, your voice and meetings, and your contributions to nonprofits.
Here are some areas worth your attention and action:
- Increasing use of reclaimed waste water -- for example, using recycled water (purified sewage) on landscaping or for cooling and toilets in large buildings.
- Spending to prevent water-main breaks. Because of aging pipes and our area's frequent ground movements, EB MUD, for example, loses almost 10% of drinking water to pipeline breaks.
- Water rates that encourage efficiency – for example, rates that are high enough to encourage conservation. and that rise as use increases. Other possibilities include rates that vary by time or season, and technology such as metering that shows current use and metering of rental units.
- Policies that encourage cooperation and rationality in California's tangled web of water rights. This includes basics such as monitoring and regulating groundwater (due to be introduced gradually following 2014 legislation) and accurately determining use and claims on water.
- Upcoming decisions on use of water, including decisions on drought restrictions, allocating water to wildlife or farmers, building-code changes that save water, water storage as groundwater or behind dams, new desalination plants, proposals for two large new tunnels taking water from north of the Delta to the Bay Area and Southern California, and policies governing fracking (fracturing rock of extract oil and gas).
Finding out more: Many organizations do excellent work on water-related issues in California. Two with long track records of informative and responsible research are the Pacific Institute and the Water Education Foundation.The Wheeler Institute for Water Law & Policy at UC Berkeley Law's Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment does thoughtful studies on policy, several linked to above.Recent research on likely effects of climate change in California can be found at Cal Adapt. Pacific Institute has interactive maps showing per-person water use in the areas served by urban water utilities all over California.