California will likely achieve its goal of reducing statewide per capita water consumption 20 percent by the year 2020, as mandated by state law, according to an Inland Empire water district representative.

California should hit water-use efficiency goals

California will likely achieve its goal of reducing statewide per capita water consumption 20 percent by the year 2020, as mandated by state law, according to an Inland Empire water district representative.

“I think we’re well on our way and, in some places, definitely ahead of meeting that goal,” said Tim Barr, water use efficiency manager with the Western Municipal Water District in Riverside. “In the last few years, we’ve noticed a real change in people’s water use habits. People want to be efficient because they don’t want to pay for wasted water. They understand that they don’t want to pay for water running down the sidewalk.”

Barr was one of several speakers at The Toro Company’s “Success Without Excess: Achieving 20 x 2020” water conference held at the company’s irrigation headquarters in Riverside, Calif. This year’s event, the seventh in the ongoing series, drew about 80 people, mostly from local and regional water districts.

“The idea behind this year’s conference was to hear directly from subject experts on the state’s water use efficiency goals, and to recognize interim successes and achievements by our local and regional water districts,” said Philip A. Burkart, vice president and general manager of Toro’s Irrigation Business. “It was certainly not to tell people that they have to give up their lawns and gardens in order to reduce their water use by 20 percent. In reality, because there are now cost-effective, low water-use turf choices and more efficient ways to irrigate, homeowners don’t have to make an either-or decision.”

The day-long session focused on the state’s mandate to cut per capita water use by 20 percent over the next eight years. The California Senate Bill, SBx7-7, known as The Water Conservation Act of 2009, requires all state water agencies to establish a base line of average water use by its urban customers, then present a plan to the state detailing how they will achieve the 20 percent reduction over the next eight years.

All agencies must comply if they don’t want to jeopardize their eligibility for water grants and state-backed loans for infrastructure projects. In fact, failure to comply could result in severe penalties, including criminal charges, according to the California Association of Water Agencies.

A 20 percent reduction during the next eight years is potentially a daunting task. California is expected to add about five million people to its population during that time, but Barr said the state is ahead of schedule in several regions.

“We’re ahead in some places, behind in some places, but overall I think we’re in good shape,” said Barr, who said Southern Californians do not waste water with impunity, as some people believe.

“The newer houses are already outfitted to save water,” Barr said. They are also landscaped and irrigated to be in compliance with California’s Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance.

“Although there is always room to increase efficiency, I don’t see us reducing water use significantly in new construction by 2020. Those homes are already designed with efficiency in mind. It’s the older homes with old plumbing fixtures and old sprinklers that, when updated, will result in meaningful water savings.”

“Water use is down at many agencies across the state and many agencies have met or are close to meeting the 2020 water use targets,” said Peter Brostrom, an urban water efficiency program manager with the California Department of Water Resources. “Unfortunately much of the reduction is due to the recession, a couple of wet years and good habits carried over from the 2007-2009 drought.” As a result, there is concern that water use will rebound and increase once the economy begins to improve. Added Brostrom, “Local water officials are very aware that they will have to continue and even roll out more aggressive programs to keep water use below the target.”

“There’s some concern that, once the economy comes back, people will go back to using as much water as they did before,” said Brostrom, who also spoke at the “Success Without Excess” conference. “That doesn’t sound like a good thing when you’re trying to cut back on water use.”

However, the fear among some water officials is that if residents do cut back, revenue will decrease and force an increase in water rates just to cover expenses at the water agency level. “Reduced revenue makes it harder to fund conservation programs, and to continue to replace old technology,” Brostrom said. “It’s an interesting situation.”

            Barr also praised customer attraction to and participation in, a cost-effective program designed to get water-efficient spray nozzles into as many residential landscapes as possible. The program uses the power of the Internet to educate homeowners and to streamline administration, as well as the technical expertise of local irrigation distributors.

“Toro’s high efficiency nozzles have better defined edges and they apply water more slowly and evenly than conventional spray nozzles,” Barr said. “That means they save water. If you use them, you won’t end up watering the sidewalk.”

Burkart added, “There are three agencies that need to be recognized for their hard work and success in pursuit of the 20 x 2020 goal: Western Municipal Water District and Riverside Public Utilities for developing and prototyping the original program; and Inland Empire Utilities Agency for its two years of support and funding, which made possible a significant expansion of the program through its member agencies.”

“It is this kind of initiative and effort, that I am sure is shared by many water agencies throughout the state, that makes me confident California will meet its 20 x 2020 goal,” Burkart concluded.