US Water Conservation: How's Your State Doing?

When you think about water conservation, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s low-flow toilets or xeriscaping? When states create policies for water conservation, they generally think about things like toilets and xeriscaping too, and if they’re really progressive, they create plans to address conservation and drought issues. Many states have laws and policies that help make those plans effective or that render them toothless in their ability to be enforced. Have you ever wondered what your state government does to ensure that water is used wisely in your state? Maybe you wondered how your state’s efforts compare to those of others? Now you can find out in an Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE) report released in late 2012.

The Water Efficiency and Conservation State Scorecard: An Assessment of Laws and Policies,” evaluated water conservation and efficiency policies and laws throughout the 50 states using a 20-question survey, then gave each state a grade based on the number of points states received for their answers. The laws and policies covered in the survey included “plumbing fixture standards, water conservation requirements related to water rights, water loss control rules, conservation planning and program implementation, volumetric billing for water, funding sources for water efficiency and conservation programs, and technical assistance and other informational resources.”

While no state achieved a perfect score, California and Texas scored the highest with 29 out of a possible 40 points (and received an A-minus grade). If you live in California, you’re probably not surprised by this given the state’s strained water resources and what a divisive issue water use has become in the state. With strong regulations, plans and policies for water loss and drought, and broadly applicable water conservation plans, the Golden Gate state is getting a lot of things right. Water conservation has become a way of life for Californians and the state clearly intends to keep it that way with its laws and policies.

With strong plumbing regulations and effective drought contingency and conservation plans, Texas also scored well. The severe, multi-year drought currently plaguing Texas has undoubtedly led to many positive changes in water use in the state and that was clearly reflected in the state’s score.

There were 11 B’s and 18 C’s, indicating a lot of variability in how states approach water conservation and efficiency. According to the report, “’B’ states are also making great effort and likely have valuable examples of strong policy. ‘C’ states may also have a small number of robust laws and policies, but they may be lacking a comprehensive approach.” The disappointing news is that 19 states received D’s receiving no more than a paltry two to four points out of 40. The report authors are kind, saying, “’D’ states have a lot of opportunity for growth.”

Clearly, many states have a lot of work to do to improve their water conservation efforts.

A particularly interesting topic was Question 11, which asks states whether they require water utilities and municipalities to prepare water conservation plans that are separate from drought emergency plans. According to the report, “Unlike drought emergency plans, which only apply during drought emergency events, water conservation plans outline measures that are broadly applicable at all times.” A “yes” answer indicates how much value states place on the need for water conservation beyond times of water scarcity.

Water conservation and efficiency will become increasingly important as the form, amount and intensity of precipitation change as the climate changes. As we experienced last summer, no state is immune to a drought. Getting out ahead of these changes would serve all states now, in advance of the inevitable scarcities we face, rather than making decisions in a crisis scenario.

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My state -- New York -- received 11 points for a grade of “C,” - not great. How did your state do? Check it out here.


 



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