California is facing its third-worst drought in 106 years with results like fallow cropland and skyrocketing water prices.
Drought is nothing new to California, and over the years reducing urban water use has become a major long-term policy goal in California. In 2009, California adopted a policy of reducing urban water use by 20 percent per capita by 2020. This is a good thing because 70 percent of all urban water use comes from residential consumption.
“The more water we use, the less water we have. The more water we save, the more water we have.” – CA Governor Jerry Brown
The question is whether or not this is a feasible goal. To answer that question, we only have to look at Australia, a country with a similar economy and a comparable climate and culture to California. It turns out that Australians use a lot less water than Californians — about half (59 gallons per capita a day (gpcd) as compared to 105 gpcd in California. Not only does Australia have less per capita residential use than CA overall, but nearly every major city in Australia used less water per capita than metropolitan areas in the Western U.S.
The biggest differences between Australian and Californian residential water use are outdoor water applications, and toilet operation and leaks. More than two-thirds of the difference is accounted for by lower Australian water use outdoors and for toilets.
Although the prolonged Australian drought – which lasted for much of the past decade – motivated major reductions in urban water use, the largest reductions came from programs to accelerate retrofitting of dual flush toilets, outdoor water use restrictions, and additional motivation to conserve brought about by higher water prices.
We Californians still have lots of room for improvement when it comes to wasting water outdoors and through toilet flushing, the latter of which is the home’s biggest water waster. One of the easiest ways to start conserving immediately is to place a water displacement device in your toilet tanks. Or with a little more effort, you can replace an old inefficient toilet with a High Efficiency toilet that uses 1.28 gallons per flush.