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Drops of Energy

Conserving Urban Water in California to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Water use means energy use. The state pumps and treats water and consumers use water in energy-intensive ways, such as through water heating and pressurizing. The greenhouse gas emissions associated with water- related energy consumption total more than 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent gases, while the burning of carbon-based fuels to power the state’s water infrastructure releases particulate matter that can cause asthma and other health effects. Conserving water therefore means conserving energy and limiting pollution.

Water conservation saves energy and greenhouse gas emissions. The use of water in California represents approximately 20 percent of the state’s electricity demand and consumes 40 percent of its non-power-plant natural gas and 88 million gallons of diesel fuel.

Urban water efficiency efforts could yield substantial energy and greenhouse gas savings. California could reduce current in-state demand for water by roughly 20 percent, through existing, cost-effective technologies and practices.

Water use efficiency will help reduce the need to provide new supplies of water. Water use efficiency can be more cost effective than procuring new water supplies that require extensive treatment or infrastructure investment.   

Policy Needs

Policy Solutions

Providing Financial Incentives to Conserve.

Develop Water Rate Structures and Carbon Accounting to Encourage Water Conservation.

Water Providers

Implement budget-based systems or inclining block rates.

Budget-based systems allow for property-specific water budgets and tiered pricing that gives customers an economic incentive to use water more efficiently. As an alternative to budget-based systems, water utilities could consider instituting inclining block rates that charge customers more money for more water used.

Water Districts

Consider time-of-use or seasonal rates.

Water districts could consider implementing time-of-use rates to discourage inefficient consumption during times of peak demand. This type of rate structure would likely reduce overall demand. If metering technology does not yet exist to make this a cost-effective tool, water districts and other stakeholders should expand investment in metering technology with time-of-use rates as a goal.

Water Providers

Encourage water recycling and other efficiency measures.

Water providers should consider lowering rates when consumers purchase recycled water or adopt water efficiency measures. “Recycled” or “reclaimed” water refers to purified wastewater that is often used for irrigation, industrial cooling, or to replenish groundwater aquifers. An incentive-based rate structure may encourage more consumers to utilize this source of water.

Water Districts

Coordinate rate schedules and incentives with wastewater treatment agencies.

Wastewater agencies may be willing to contribute to water conservation and efficiency efforts as a means to avoid having to invest in wastewater expansion efforts. Improved efficiency will reduce discharges for water agencies, which can save them and their ratepayers money.

Carbon Accounting Nonprofit Firms

Ensure that businesses undertaking water efficiency steps receive credit for the resulting carbon reductions.

Many businesses rely on carbon reduction credits from energy usage improvements due to efficiency measures. These credits not only have public relations value but also financial value as offsets in both the voluntary carbon offset markets and the compliance markets associated with emerging cap-and-trade programs.

Improving Water Consumption Data.

Develop Statewide Data Collection Process.

State Leaders

Develop standards, benchmarks, and metrics for water consumption data.

The state should meter water use consistently at all critical points in the water cycle where possible (e.g. key supply and conveyance stations, water treatment plants). State leaders should specify the protocol for water managers to report the data. State officials organizing the results should utilize a weather normalization analysis that will enable data comparisons among different regions and different years.

State Leaders

Make the data searchable for the public without violating privacy rights.

The state agency should devise a method of publicizing the data and allowing easy customer access to it. This information will help set water consumption benchmarks for customers and allow them to compare their water usage to their peers and to historic data. To address privacy concerns, the state agency may consider aggregating the data among multiple users.

Water Utilities

Provide real-time information about water usage to educate customers about their water consumption and how it compares with their neighbors.

Water utilities should provide consumers with relevant real-time information about water use, when feasible. This information could also include users’ consumption patterns and expenses, as well as the aggregate consumption of their similarly situated neighbors or regional consumption averages.

State Leaders

Centralize the data processes in an existing agency with a mandate for enforcement and guidelines for data collection.

The agency would serve as a central authority to receive current reports of water usage and could have a legislative mandate to report the data and enforce proper monitoring. The agency would manage the data, verify the accuracy, and make them available to the public.

State Leaders

Consider providing funds and deadlines for metering water.

The state should consider dedicating its financial resources for water districts to expand comprehensive water metering and conservation measurement efforts, perhaps using applicable state bond funds.

Raising Customer Awareness.

Develop and Implement an Outreach Program to Advertise the Benefits of Water Conservation.

State Leaders

Coordinate a consolidated and location-specific marketing campaign to encourage consumers to conserve water.

Previous marketing campaigns have lacked coordination at the state level and often failed to convey the energy component involved in water consumption. The California Water Commission, among other agencies, could assist with this task.

State Leaders

Coordinate the outreach with federal efforts on energy efficiency.

Existing federal programs to improve energy efficiency could synchronize with state efforts. A state agency could take the lead to coordinate a statewide campaign with federal efforts, such as the WaterSense program, which works with businesses to develop consumer-oriented labels for water-efficient products.

Increasing Funds for Water Efficiency.

Expand Existing Financing Mechanisms and Implement a Public Goods Charge on Water.

State Leaders

Encourage water districts to adopt on-bill financing for water efficiency improvements.

On-bill financing programs allow water utility customers to finance water efficiency measures through their water bills at low or no interest, with the upfront money provided by the utilities. These customers could then invest in new water-efficient appliances and infrastructure and pay for them over time through their utility bill.

State Leaders

Encourage water districts to integrate conservation program funding into water sales and service connection fee models.

The state should authorize and encourage water providers to place a surcharge on water customers, such as a public good charge, to fund water efficiency measures. The AB 32 Scoping Plan recommends a public goods charge for water.

State & Local Government Leaders

Encourage use of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) funds for water efficiency improvements.

PACE programs allow government entities to provide capital, from the municipal or state bond market, to property owners in order to finance retrofits. Property owners then make payments through an increase in their semi-annual property tax assessment.

Water Providers

Consider efficiency efforts ahead of purchasing new water supplies in developing their water management portfolios.

As water districts plan to spend money to acquire new sources of water to meet growing demand, they should first consider dedicating a portion of those resources to conserving an equal amount of water. The water reductions should offset the need for additional supplies, possibly provide a cheaper alternative, and help the state conserve water.

Water Providers

Utilize water efficiency experts to target high-volume water users.

Water providers should assign efficiency experts, either in house or through private consultants when necessary, to work with businesses to audit and reduce their water consumption. For private businesses, these experts offer an opportunity to save money without having to invest the time and expense to implement the efficiency measures.

“Water bills are sophisticated in Europe, showing customers their baseline water consumption. We need our water bills to be visual and colorful and show people their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.”

Participant, Water-Energy Convening