Water-saving Strategies

“California could save enough energy to power 150,000 homes and slash carbon emissions by a half-million metric tons annually if it made full use of secondary and tertiary recycled water supplies,” according to a new study from the California Sustainability Alliance (CSA). Local governments can help to reduce the climate impacts with energy usage to transport and treat drinking water by using the most efficient water system equipment and implementing water efficiency conservation & reclamation programs to use recycled water for landscaping or other non-potable uses.

Planning a Comprehensive Water Efficiency Program

  • Appoint a Water Efficiency Coordinator

    A water efficiency coordinator is essential in implementing all aspects of your city/county water efficiency program. Depending on the scope of the water efficiency program, the coordinator may also assemble a water conservation team. Local government officials must give this team the responsibility and authority to research, design and implement the water efficiency program.

Water Efficiency Retrofits

  • Install Water Efficient Devices in Municipal Buildings

    Local governments can replace plumbing fixtures and appliances with water efficient models. Cities and counties can offset the cost to purchase water efficient equipment by applying for water efficient rebates for clothes washers, high efficiency toilets, and other water efficient products. 

  • Bathrooms: Replace 3.5 to 5 gpf toilets with flushometer valves and bowls designed to use 1.6 gpf or less. When replacing tank-type toilets, install high-efficiency toilets with a WaterSense label. These toilets are independently tested and certified to use 20% less water than ultra-low-flush (ULF) toilets and pass rigorous waste removal performance tests. Waterless urinals can replace standard urinals in mens restrooms. For lavatory faucet retrofits, install faucets or faucet aerators or laminar flow devices that achieve the 0.5 gpm flow rate.

  • Kitchens: Install aerators or laminar flow devices that achieve the flow rate of 2.5 gpm. Install temporary shut-off or foot operated valves with kitchen faucets. As appliances or equipment wear out, replace them with high-efficiency water saving models with an Energy Star label.

Reduce Water Usage in Landscapes

  • Xeriscape for Water Efficient Landscaping

    Water efficient landscape design, also known as “xeriscape” can help to conserve water, save money and reduce green waste, urban runoff, and GHG emissions. Appropriate plant selection such as the installation of native and drought-tolerant plants can be utilized to reduce water consumption in landscaping. Hydro zoning is another technique to group plants with similar watering requirements. Minimizing turf areas and using lawn grass that demands less water can help to reduce water consumption in landscaping. Proper soil preparation such as adding compost in appropriate areas is critical to successful water conservation. Mulch can also help to reduce water usage by decreasing soil temperature and the amount of soil exposed to wind. Mulching also helps to suppress weeds. All of these xeriscaping techniques reduce the need for irrigation, pesticides, and gas powered maintenance equipment.

  • Install Smart Landscape Irrigation

    Smart landscape irrigation can help to save money and water. Drip irrigation is one method to reduce GHG emissions because less power is needed to maintain adequate pressure and less water is needed because of the slow application that matches soil absorption rates. Drip irrigation also eliminates water run-off and water evaporation. Local governments can also use weather or sensor-based irrigation control technologies to conserve up to 26% of irrigation water use. Lastly, cities and counties can schedule irrigation systems to irrigate between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. Watering in the early morning is best because it helps to reduce evaporation. It also prevents disease caused by water sitting on plants overnight.

  • Use Recycled Water to Irrigate Landscape

    Cities and counties that have infrastructure in place should use recycled water to irrigate municipal parks and other landscaped areas. Local governments can also install rainwater catchment cisterns to irrigate landscapes.

  • Use Graywater to Irrigate Landscape

    Cities and counties can install a graywater system that can be used to subsurface irrigate municipal buildings landscape.

Water Efficiency for New Construction

  • Design New Municipal Facilities to Reduce Potable Water Usage

    Some cities and counties have adopted green building requirements for all new municipal buildings. Local governments can require all new facilities that are designed and certified to third-party green building rating systems to meet a minimum number of points for water efficiency. For example, some cities and counties may require at a minimum that all new municipal green buildings reduce potable water usage indoors by 20% and outdoor water usage by 50%. The US Green Building Council includes points in their LEED Rating System for these same and higher thresholds of water efficiency.

  • Install Dual Plumbing in New Facilities

    Cities and counties that already have recycled water infrastructure in place can tap into recycled water for non-potable uses in municipal buildings. If the infrastructure is not yet in place, cities and counties are well equipped for future development of reclaimed water distribution systems by installing purple coded dual plumbing in new facilities.

Education and Outreach

  • Join Water Sense

    WaterSense is a partnership sponsored by the EPA to promote water-efficient products and practices. Local governments can join WaterSense as a promotional partner. There are many benefits to membership including strengthening water-efficiency outreach efforts, reducing market research costs, and obtaining access to customizable free tools and resources to promote water efficiency and conservation efforts in your community.

  • Initiate an Education Program with Employees and Residents

    By offering water efficiency classes to employees and residents, they can learn techniques to incorporate water efficient retrofits and landscaping into homes and schools. Coordinate efforts with local water agencies to educate employees and residents about available incentives and rebates.

  • Initiate a Rain Harvest Rebate Program

    Local governments can encourage rainwater harvesting by homeowners and businesses by offering rebates for cisterns and rain gutter improvements.

  • Conservation Pricing

    Consider the potential for water pricing strategies to be used to both stimulate conservation and raise revenue to meet clean water needs.

Policy for Community Action

  • Adopt the Ahwahnee Water Principles for Resource-Efficient Land Use

    Cities and counties can utilize these land use principles as an effective blueprint for reducing costs and sustaining the reliability and quality of future water resources. There are nine community principles and five implementation principles that “many cities and counties are already using to improve the vitality and prosperity of their communities.” The Local Government Commission (LGC) offers a model resolution to adopt the Ahwahnee Water Principles for Resource-Efficient Land Use.

  • Pass a Water Efficient Landscaping Ordinance

    California law requires cities and counties to adopt a water efficient landscape ordinance. The State of California Department of Water Resources (DWR) offers a model ordinance. DWR is developing updated regulations that would require all cities and counties to adopt a water efficient landscape ordinance that is at least as or more stringent than the model ordinance. For local governments that do not adopt the updated model water efficient landscape ordinance on or before January 1, 2010, the ordinance adopted by the DWR will apply as the default local ordinance.

  • Adopt a Recycled Water Use Ordinance

    The use of recycled water is a cost-effective, reliable method to meet California's water supply needs. Local governments that pass a Recycled Water Use Ordinance can help to reuse non-potable water where it is feasible and meets all public health, safety and environmental standards.

Actions for Local Governments that Own & Operate Water Utilities

  • Develop a Urban Water Management Plan

    Prepare and submit to the Department of Water Resources an Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP). Urban water suppliers with more than 3,000 connections or that serve more than 3,000 customers are required to submit an UWMP in years ending in 0 and 5. The UWMP can help suppliers plan a conservation program using the demand management measures, the water shortage contingency plan. The data in the UWMP can also be used to help document the supply reliability requirements of SB 610 (2001) and SB 221 (2001). Visit the following website to download the Department of Water Resources Urban Water Management Plan Guidebook.

  • Develop a Water Conservation Plan for Public Water Systems

    Conservation planning can help water system managers take inventory of their existing efforts and identify new opportunities. Planning can help utilities manage competing goals and rising costs, such as those associated with Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) compliance, infrastructure improvement, and meeting demand growth. The investment that water system managers make in conservation planning should yield savings that can be measured in terms of water and dollars. Read more at US EPA Water Conservation Plan Guidelines 

  • Conduct Water-use Audits of Water Distribution Systems

    The California Urban Water Conservation Council provides a variety of tools including a water conservation audit spreadsheet tool to quantify and track water loss associated with distribution systems to identify areas for improved efficiency and cost recovery.

  • Implement a Water-loss Management Program to Repair Leaks

    The cost of water leakage can be measured in terms of the operating costs associated with water supply, treatment, and delivery; water lost produces no revenues for the utility. Repairing larger leaks can be costly, but it also can produce substantial savings in water and expenditures over the long run.

    Local governments can use the Drip Calculator to measure and estimate water wasted within municipal facilities. Cities and counties can also use this calculator as an educational tool to encourage residents to repair water leaks.

  • Develop a reclaimed wastewater (recycled water for reuse) distribution system for non-potable uses

    In addition to providing a dependable, locally-controlled water supply, water recycling provides tremendous environmental benefits. By providing an additional source of water, water recycling can help us find ways to decrease the diversion of water from sensitive ecosystems. Other benefits include decreasing wastewater discharges and reducing and preventing pollution. Recycled water can also be used to create or improve wetlands and riparian habitats. Recycled water is most commonly used for non-potable (not for drinking) purposes, such as agriculture, landscape, public parks, and golf course irrigation.

    While water recycling is a sustainable approach and can be cost-effective in the long term, the treatment of wastewater for reuse and the installation of distribution systems can be initially expensive compared to such water supply alternatives as imported water or ground water.