Fighting the drought, water efficiency in California


For our Economics classes at Pinchot last year, I – with a few friends and classmates – worked on water in California. My part was focusing on the inefficiency and the leaks occuring in the State. The findings are quite unsettling.

First, let us have a look at a Water “ use” that doesnt benefit anyone. Leaks. As the NY Times noted in a recent article :

“ California’s water systems lose, on average, about 10 percent of the water they carry, according to Reinhard Sturm, the chief operating officer at Water Systems Optimization, a consulting company for controlling water loss. “

Worse, still to the same article,

Some cities lose up to 25 percent 

The reasons for such a waste are simple : the water infrastructure in California is crumbling, with some pipes being more than 80 years old. Here is an example among too many others.

ucla-water-main-breakThe UCLA campus, where some of the elite of this brilliant nation is being trained, saw 20 million gallon – 75.7 million liters – of perfectly drinkable flood the vicinity (see right).

Now to compare, an olympic swimming pool is  660,000 US gallons So just one leak caused the equivalent of losing 30 swimming pools worth of water.

Overall, in the whole State of California, which is in its fourth year of drought, the water distribution systems lose up to 228 billion gallons – 862 million liters – annually, the state estimates. This is more than enough to supply the entire city of Los Angeles and its million of inhabitants for a year.

On average the State loses 49 gallons a day for every service connection, and Sacramento loses a whopping 135 gallons per connection. As a sidenote : it is estimated that for electricity, 9 percent is lost due to transmission. While this is problematic, water is much more precious and needed.

So fixing the leaky pipes throughout the State seems to be a no brainer. But how much will it cost ? Just for the city of Angels, it would cost 1.3 billion dollar, that’s right, a thousand 300 million dollars as about one-fifth of the city’s water pipes were installed before 1931.

But tackling the leaks within the distribution system is not the only solution. Leaks also occur in buildings and account of 13.7 percent of the indoor consumption of households in the State.

Dual flush toiletToilets are huge wasters of water as well and consume a staggering 26.7 percent of households water consumption. Toilets can use up to 7 gallons – over 26 liters! – in the US. Federal Law passed in 1992 require 1.6 gallon (a bit over six liters).

But this is still way too much. New toilets in France can use half a gallon per flush. Time for an upgrade. California has a $6 million program to replace them.

Showers are another massive water consumer. Likewise, solutions exist there. I blogged last year about Nebia, a showerhead 70 percent more efficient than the US standard :

California, which is currently in an horrifying drought would save 200 billion gallons of water per year if everybody there used such efficient showeheads. For those not familiar with gallons, that’s 768 billion liters of water per year. All this water is worth four billion US Dollars…

Overall, the situation is so dire, South California have created its own standards for water conservation as Federal ones – called Watersense – is simply not enough. An example among others are flushes, which save 20 percent more than the Federal levels.

To conclude one can see the vast amounts of water that could be saved by just fixing or improving the systems in cities and communities.But agriculture is another domain where improvements are needed.

Image credits: Flickr, Robert Couse-Baker.

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