By Jack Hawks
This week, water utilities across the country are participating in “Imagine a Day Without Water,” a nationwide effort by water providers and community leaders to communicate the importance of water for the well-being of America.
“Imagine a Day Without Water” raises awareness about how essential and vital water is to daily life, and the critical need to protect and invest in the resources and infrastructure to keep it flowing to families and communities.
Consider this: Every two minutes a water main breaks somewhere in the United States, resulting in billions of gallons of treated water being lost every year. Worse are losses from household leaks – approximately 1 trillion gallons annually, or enough to represent the annual household water needs of 11 million homes, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In California, the need to conserve our water resources for a reliable supply has become center stage as our state endures a fourth year of historic drought. Gov. Jerry Brown issued an Executive Order mandating all Californians to reduce water use. The State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) set mandatory water conservation targets for water providers throughout the state.
Regulated water utilities, which serve approximately 6 million Californians, have been partnering with their customers to do their part.
In August, customers of these regulated water utilities reduced their usage by an average of 28 percent compared with 2013, according to data recently released by the State Water Board. Since the State Water Board’s targets took effect in June, regulated water utilities have averaged a nearly 30 percent reduction. Several districts have been recognized by the State Water Board as having achieved noteworthy conservation levels, exceeding their particular mandates by 20 percentage points or more.
This is a remarkable achievement and represents a wholesale change in customer behavior driven by many factors, including innovative conservation rate designs, media attention to the drought and the need to conserve, peer pressure, and increased incentives and rebate programs to help people use less water.
However, we cannot build a reliable water supply on conservation alone. Customers have been doing an outstanding job during the current drought emergency, but this level of conservation is not sustainable over the long term.
Our country needs to make critical investments to repair and improve the massive infrastructure that makes water delivery possible and improve long-term reliability. The eight largest regulated water utilities invested more than $400 million in 2014 on needed water infrastructure, including construction and/or refurbishment of storage tanks, reservoirs, distribution mains, groundwater storage, wells, booster pumps and well pumps, and water treatment plants.
All of this investment makes it possible for these utilities to serve their customers with safe, reliable, high-quality water. As you turn on the tap, hop in the shower or wash a full load of clothes or dishes, take a moment to reflect on what makes this possible.
Jack Hawks is Executive Director of the California Water Association (CWA), which represents the interests of approximately 113 public water utilities that are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission. These water utilities strive to provide high-quality water utility services to customers throughout California. CWA provides a forum for sharing best management practices; a means of promoting sound water policy by legislators and regulatory agencies; and opportunities for educating the public on the protection and efficient use of water resources.