The California drought is not a new phenomenon. In fact, there have been 10 droughts in the last century, with another 10 in store for the next century. The difference? The next century will have droughts even more severe than the current drought we’re facing. Future droughts will be drier and more hard-hitting than ever.
On Friday, water experts across the state gathered for the 9th Annual San Bernardino County Water Conference at Cal State San Bernardino. Panelists from water agencies and their stakeholders focused on the issue of the California drought. They also discussed what other water agencies across the state are doing to make great strides in implementing conservation programs.
Based on testimony from a number of panelists, the building industry has made significant progress in conserving water, even before Governor Jerry Brown mandated water cutbacks. Newer homes, particularly those built after 1980, are much more water efficient than those built in prior years. A 3-bedroom home built in 1975 uses over 92,000 gallons of water per year indoors, compared to 46,521 gallons for a home built in 2013.
As the California drought rages on, many Californians have been questioning the building industry’s desire to continue developing new projects, with a strong emphasis on home building in particular. The concern rises from the notion that more people and more infrastructure means more water use across the board. Panelists disagreed with that assertion, saying water agencies and their water conservation programs have helped reduce the amount of per-capita water usage. Installing more water-efficient showerheads, toilets, faucets and washing machines has allowed the building industry to meet the growth demand while remaining water-conscious.
“Even though our population has grown by 5 million since the 1980s, our water demand has been pretty flat,” said Jack Safely, program manager in Management and Resource Planning at the Metropolitan Water District.
The natural market will decide how to handle the drought and the water situation, said Steve LaMar, president of LegiSight and Board President for the Irvine Ranch Water District. LaMar believes the economy will decide whether or not home development is a good idea. In his mind, the power is in the hands of the consumer. If the demand and need is there, people will purchase new homes. Reducing new home development increases the chronic undersupply across the state and results in a lack of affordability for homeowners.
“Our economy is being saved by local and regional development,” Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies said. “Even in a millennial drought, the economy is still continuing to grow.”
According to Carlos Rodriguez, CEO of the Building Industry Association Baldy View Chapter, the building industry is one of the most regulated industries – if not the most regulated industry in the nation. He explained the building industry’s unique position to help supply the demand for new homes, which helps meet the demand for water. When a homeowner purchases a newer, more water efficient home, they’re limiting the amount of water waste that takes place. The amount of water that’s saved from the new home can then be saved to meet others’ needs.
“New homes use 50 percent less indoor water and 30 to 50 percent less outdoor water,” Rodriguez said.
Because the building industry faces extensive government regulation, they are required to demonstrate that there is an available 20-year water supply for new projects prior to development. That regulation alone helps with long-term water security.
Although many question San Bernardino County’s ability to remain water-solvent, a study by the San Bernardino County Vision Water Element Group found that “the county has enough water to supply residents, business, and agricultural needs through 2035, if there is a commitment from the whole community to invest in capital projects and programs to store new water supplies, protect current water supplied, and increase water conservation efforts.”