California builders adapt to water conservation regulations

| by Gary Wollenhaupt
California builders adapt to water conservation regulations

Homebuilders in California are adapting to strict water conservation regulations to ensure homeowners and local water districts don't violate the rules.

In April 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order calling for a statewide 25 percent reduction in potable urban water usage through Feb. 28, 2016.

The State Water Resources Control Board assigned each of California’s 411 urban water districts a “conservation standard.” Under the state board’s plan, water suppliers with a history of high use must slash water consumption by up to 36 percent versus that in 2013. Other water districts with a history of low water use must cut consumption by as little as 4 percent.

According to local reports, urban water use in California dropped by 27% in June,based on figures from the State Water Resources Control Board. Suppliers that did not reduce water consumption by a large enough amount could face fines up to $10,000.

In an exclusive interview, spoke with Dave Cogdill, president and CEO of the California Building Industry Association, regarding the industry's response and responsibilities in the state's water crisis.

Dave Cogdill

Q: What is the industry's perspective on the water crisis and how has it changed practices for builders?

A: No. 1, we have been aware of water challenges in California for a long time, and it's been incumbent on builders in this state to prove their source of water before they're granted approvals to build.

As an industry we've been very involved in trying to make sure we have a reliable water supply throughout the state, and in addition to that we are on the cutting edge of green technologies to conserve water and use less water compared to what norms have been in the past.

Q: How has the industry adapted to the challenges?

A: Today we build a home that's 50 percent more efficient on the natural water savings, not even talking about extreme conservation demonstration homes. But a standard home is using water more efficiently due to better appliances and fixtures. A new home uses roughly half the water that a home built prior to 1980 uses.

We're encouraging the governor and legislators to provide more in the way of resources and encouragements to people in the existing housing stock, about 9 million homes, close to 2/3 of those in the state, to convert their higher-use fixtures and appliances to more water conserving devices. It's estimated to cost about $1,500 per home today.

We're trying to find ways to provide those monies or incentives that would move people to that point. The water savings would be substantial.

Q: What could be the impact of that initiative?

A: If everyone were in a new home or in a home using the devices we use today, it would save about a million acre feet of water a year over what we currently use. It could go a long way toward reducing the drought situation

Some districts have done it all ready, they go in and make all the retrofits and amortize the cost of that by maintaining the water bill through the savings over what it had been historically and that's applied to the "loan" from the water district to pay for the conversions. That's a creative way of doing it.

Ultimately the homeowner pays that back over time and then they're saving money on what they were paying monthly for the water bill.

Read about award-winning water-saving technology.

Q: What are some of the ways that homeowners and builders can have a real impact?

A: Common appliances and fixtures such as toilets, showers, dishwashers and washing machines are more efficient today. There's a lot of technology that really makes a difference when people replace appliances from the 1980s.

A big area of conversation in the industry is inside and outside landscaping. We're using more drought-resistant plants, more drip irrigation, and more hardscapes vs. lawns. There is smart technology related to rain sensors that will alter use of water outside the home.

There are some cutting edge technologies, such as water recirculation pumps to cut time waiting on hot water, and the re-use of grey water with actual onsite treatment facilities. It's kind of expensive now but the price is expected to drop as it becomes more main stream. It allows you to use water twice, you take water from showers and sinks and when the system is done with it, it's almost as pure as regular tap water and you can use it outdoors. It certainly is great news for outside irrigation.

Q: Can improvements in residential use overcome the water deficit?

A: It's been acknowledged by experts there is not a silver bullet; it will take a combination of things in order to provide a water supply in the future in this state. We will need all of the tools to achieve that end.

We need more in the way of surface water storage; we need more ground water storage and better conveyance systems. The hope is we'll do a better job getting our infrastructure where it needs to be so when we do have wet years we can retain more water.

It's very fortunate that we have the technology that's emerging and will continue to develop. And I think they've done a good job of creating an environment relating to water that doesn't reduce the pleasure or utility you receive out of it. They've come up with ways to still have the same quality life and use half as much water as you've been using. That's the kind of thing we want to see more of.

Read more about water saving devices.

Topics: Appliances, Bathroom, Going Green, Healthy Homes, Kitchen, Plumbing & Fixtures, Proud Green Building, Sinks & Toilets, Water Filtration & Water Quality, Water Saving Devices, WaterSense

Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

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