California water report: Enough to support new residential development

Experts cite conservation, efficiencies, denser development as difference-makers despite drought

LA new housing builds

California is in a drought and facing government-mandated restrictions on water use but experts say there’s still enough to supply new housing development––although there are a couple of big ifs.

There will be plenty of water available if a 60-year trend of residents using less water continues and accelerates into the future, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In Los Angeles, residents use 44 percent less water per person each year than they did four decades ago, according to the city-owned Department of Water and Power.

Changes that continue to free up water supplies can be found in new housing developments, including water-efficient faucets, toilets, appliances and showers. New wastewater recycling plants increase water supply. Thirsty lawns are getting replaced with gardens of native plants.

“The reality is we use water so inefficiently and so poorly, there’s so much opportunity to change that,” said Newsha Ajami, chief development officer for research at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “A lot of that opportunity we can use to house people.”.

About 80 percent of California water is used for agriculture, with the rest for homes and businesses. Of that remaining 20 percent, nearly half goes toward outside watering, washing cars, or filling swimming pools.

The state’s population once grew in tandem with water use, but that changed a half century ago. Between 1967 and 2016, California’s population doubled, yet water use rose by only 13 percent, according to a new study by the Pacific Institute, a Bay Area think tank.

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Since 2007, both total and per capita water use in the state has plunged. Total urban water use in 2016 was at levels not seen since the early 1990s, the report found.

“California has seen a major decoupling of water use and growth,” said Heather Cooley, the Pacific Institute’s research director and the report’s lead author. “We are using water more efficiently. Those efforts have been incredibly effective.”

The report found that Californians still waste a lot of water. It determined that the state could further reduce use by more than 30 percent by investing in measures to use water more efficiently.

Denser development also saves water because it has less outdoor landscaping than single-family home subdivisions. Combining water savings with more compact growth patterns allows for a lot more people without stressing supply.

A separate Pacific Institute study from last year found that the Bay Area could add more than 2 million jobs and homes over the next 50 years, accommodating nearly 7 million more people, and offset all water use from the larger population through that strategy.

[Los Angeles Times] – Dana Bartholomew

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