By Matt Nichols
Earlier this year, the Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE) and the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) released The Water Efficiency and Conservation Scorecard: An Assessment of Laws and Policies. AWE is a national non
-profit based in Chicago that advocates for water efficient products and policies, while ELI is a non -profit, non-partisan research and education organization dedicated to environmental protection based in Washington, DC.
The two groups conducted a joint survey of state water agencies in all fifty states, consisting of a twenty item questionnaire regarding water use regulations and practices. Responses to each question were categorized and assigned points, ultimately yielding a quantitative score that translated to a letter grade for each state on measures of water efficiency and conservation.
The survey questions covered a wide range of water use issues, including: standards for toilets, urinals, showerheads, washers, and spray valves; building and plumbing codes; water loss accounting regulations and limits; water supply, use, and conservation planning requirements; state funding for conservation projects; and billing and metering procedures.
Adhering to the more rigorous, voluntary performance standards outlined in the U.S. EPA’s WaterSense program is one way states could score favorably in these categories. WaterSense certified products typically use 20-50% less water than federal minimum standards (which were set back in 1992). For example, states earned points for requiring that all new showerheads use less water than the current federal standard of 2.5 gallons-per-minute (gpm); the WaterSense standard is 2.0 gpm.
In the overall scoring, California and Texas earned the highest marks, both meriting an A-. On the other hand, nineteen states earned grades of D. In total, the average grade was a C.
Illinois earned points for its programs in water loss accounting, its inclusion of conservation considerations in the permitting process, and its funding for urban water conservation, as well as “extra credit” for requiring soil moisture sensors for irrigation systems. However, in large part because of the lack of stringent product standards and a modern, conservation-oriented plumbing code in Illinois, the state still fell below the national average, earning a C-. Indiana received the same grade, while our neighbors to the north in Wisconsin did somewhat better with a B-.
The joint study aimed “to create concise and useful information, and to bring attention to exemplary policies that may be used as models for other states to emulate.” The states of the Great Lakes region could learn much from water conservation leaders like California and Texas. Perhaps the urgency of water shortages is more obvious in those arid states, whereas in the Great Lakes region, we are easily lulled into a sense of complacency due to the apparent abundance of fresh water, even though we are limited in how much water we can withdraw from the lakes and many residents depend on strained groundwater supplies.
Ultimately, water conservation is an urgent and national concern: according to the U.S. General Accounting Office, 36 states are expecting water shortages in 2013, with many already affected by the 2012 drought. Addressing the challenge will require state-level action both to reduce consumer demand through greater efficiency and behavioral change. Fortunately, preemptive investments to protect water supplies through conservation and infrastructure, as seen in several Western states, can pay valuable dividends.
The Alliance for Water Efficiency is hosting a webinar about the scorecard report on September 12. Click here for more details.