Despite droughts, the recession and natural disasters, California’s urban population continues to grow.
This population growth means increasing demand for water by urban areas—home to most of California’s population [see also Agricultural Conservation]. As of 2012, seven of the most populated urbanized areas in the United States were in California.
The state and agencies that supply water for urban uses see conservation as one way to narrow the gap between supply and demand.
Major ongoing challenges to urban water supplies include:
- Environmental degradation
- Legal and regulatory hurdles
- Climate change
Urban Conservation Challenges
In response to these multiple challenges, California enacted legislation in 2009 designed to encourage water efficiency.
The 20 percent by 2020 goal, for example, aims to reduce per capita water consumption 20 percent by 2020. Along the way, urban water suppliers have developed conservation targets.
About 450 of the larger urban water suppliers submit urban water management plans every five years to California’s Department of Water Resources that include reliability assessments of water resources and spell out demand management measures.
Some cities have made progress toward urban water conservation. Los Angeles, for example, uses roughly the same amount of water as it did in the 1970s, despite growing by more than 1 million people during the same period.
The severe drought of 2014 to 2017 intensified the push for greater water savings in the urban sector. To accelerate the process, legislation was enacted in 2018 to set permanent overall targets for indoor and outdoor water consumption. The mandates for water agencies will gradually ratchet down indoor water use to 50 gallons per person per day after Jan. 1, 2030.
Urban Water Conservation Next Steps
As part of the water budget approach, more than 90 percent of residences and businesses are metered in California, but some communities, such as Sacramento, do not have water meters on all homes (the city is in the process of installing them). Instead, customers without meters are charged a flat fee for their water no matter the amount used.
California has required water meter installation as part of all new construction since 1992. Water suppliers must install water meters on all customer connections by Jan. 1, 2025.
Other key urban water conservation efforts include:
- Programs to promote installation of low-flow showerheads and ultra-low-flush toilets
- Aggressive leak detection
- Metering of all connections and billing
- Commercial and industrial conservation programs
- High-efficiency clothes washer rebates
- Landscape water conservation programs
Urban water agencies also are required to develop water shortage contingency plans to prepare for drought or other natural disasters that cause water shortages. With funding from state and federal agencies, the California Water Efficiency Partnership (formerly the California Urban Water Conservation Council) built a database-backed website for best management practices to help measure water conservation.
Landscape accounts for about one-half of urban water use and is seen as an avenue for further use reductions.