It has been no secret that for almost four centuries Californians have needed to manage droughts on a regular cycle. Some people describe the current situation as an exceptional drought, but water use statewide has actually increased over the last year, despite short-term water restrictions. However, looking at water use in two relatively normal water years of 2000 and 2010, California urban water use declined by 12% even though population grew by 9%, according to a study by the Public Policy Institute.
Total statewide urban water use for commercial, industrial, and residential purposes decreased by 12% from 2000 to 2010, even as California’s population increased by more than three million. The most significant reductions were in central and southern California, where the largest investments in conservation programs and new technologies were made.
The business sectors’ commercial and industrial water use fell a spectacular 36% and 18% respectively. Residential interior water use also declined by 27% per capita.
Offsetting some of this conservation was outdoor water use for both residential exteriors and large commercial and public landscapes, which rose by 12% statewide. Most of this increase was driven by southern California. The report found about twice the use of water for outdoors in single-family and multi-family buildings and large lots.
Much of the overall water savings was credited to more stringent building codes, efficiency requirements, and new technologies for water usage. However, the report found that conservation was “offset by our taste for large lawns and plants that need a lot of water” and habit of overwatering.
The PPIC report suggested that to prepare for future droughts, public policy should encourage long-term outdoor water use reductions that “agencies can implement [through] new pricing structures, turf buy-back programs, and public education programs emphasizing drought-friendly landscaping.”