Pacific Institute

Waste Not, Want Not: The Potential for Urban Water Conservation in California

Executive Summary

The largest, least expensive, and most environmentally sound source of water to meet California’s future needs is the water currently being wasted in every sector of our economy. This report, “Waste Not, Want Not,” strongly indicates that California’s urban water needs can be met into the foreseeable future by reducing water waste through cost-effective water-saving technologies, revised economic policies, appropriate state and local regulations, and public education.

The potential for conservation and efficiency improvements in California is so large that even when the expected growth in the state’s population and economy is taken into account, no new water-supply dams or resevoirs are needed in the coming decades. Furthermore, the state’s natural ecological inheritance and beauty do not have to be sacrificed to satisfy our water needs. In fact, through improvements in efficiency and conservation, we can meet California’s future water needs while increasing the amount of water returned to the natural environment – thus ensuring that natural systems are protected and underground aquifers recharged. Another benefit: Saving water saves money – for water providers, consumers, and the state as a whole. Last but not least, cutting our use of water brings with it several significant “co-benefits” – from decreased sewage bills and less polluted landscape runoff to a decrease in energy consumption and improvements in air quality.

Our best estimate is that one-third of California’s current urban water use – more than 2.3 million acre-feet (AF) – can be saved with existing technology. At least 85% of this (more than 2 million AF) can be saved at costs below what it would cost to tap into new sources of supply and without the many social, environmental, and economic consequences that any major water project will bring.

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