By Amanda Pebler, Communications Associate at the Pacific Institute

California is facing its fourth year of severe drought conditions. This year’s snowpack broke record lows at a mere five percent of the historical average. And for the first time ever in the state of California, Governor Jerry Brown has declared a twenty-five percent water use cut for cities and their residents – prompting widespread “water-shaming” and concern over meeting mandatory reductions.

True, some cities use more water than others. Climate, level of industry, and population density are a few factors that play into these differences. For example, urban areas, such as Oakland or San Francisco, tend to have lower water use because there are more people living in a smaller space with fewer landscaped areas. Accordingly, the Bay Area experienced some of the greatest water reductions last year and continues to fall below the state’s average (per-capita) water use levels. With that said, how can Bay Area residents do more to reduce their water use? Aside from the shorter shower or turning off the water while you brush your teeth, here are a few things you may want to do to further limit your water use.

Replace your fixtures
To save water indoors, replace your old water-guzzling fixtures and appliances. If you can’t afford a brand new dishwasher or toilet, or maybe you are limited because you are a renter, consider switching out your faucets and showerheads with water efficient ones. This is a cost effective way to reduce your indoor water use, as well as your water bill. Also, keep a look out for rebates for water appliances from your water utility.

Create a drought-resilient yard
Half of all water used in California’s urban areas is for the outdoors. To improve your efficiency, replace your lawn with low water-use plants. Native and drought tolerant plants are the new lawns. They are arguably more beautiful, not to mention they are easier to manage, and less costly to maintain. If you live in an apartment/condo complex with water features or lawns, consider asking your resident manager to keep them empty and replace the lawn with a drought-tolerant landscape.

Keep an eye on your water bill
Do you know what your water bill is each month or the amount of water you are using? It is important to keep in mind where your household water usage falls. Not only is it helpful to gauge how you are doing at conserving, but it is also a good indicator for water leaks or efficiency issues. Take a look at the amount you used last month and then compare the number of gallons you used this month. Set a target and see if you can meet your goal.

Remember, this is an energy story as well.
We don’t always consider what other resources are being affected by the drought. In an average year, hydropower makes up around 18% of California’s energy. A recent study by the Pacific Institute found that in the last three years, the drought cost ratepayers around $1.4 billion in additional costs due to the lack of hydropower being generated and the switch to natural gas, which also increased greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, while you are reducing your water use, also work on reducing your energy use. This will reduce demand for polluting energy alternatives.

We’re all in this together
While it is easy for us to blame others for consuming too much water, finger pointing does not help alleviate the state’s water woes. By placing all of the blame on individual cities, industries, or even crops, we are often times limiting ourselves a view of the larger picture.  It’s true that agriculture uses around 80% of our developed water supply in California and that there are better practices and management strategies that need to be implemented, but there are also similar needs in the urban water realm as well. This is not to say we shouldn’t hold others accountable or continue to emphasize improved water efficiency, but it can’t be at the expense of our own efforts. Instead of just looking at those who aren’t pulling their weight, get tips and learn from those who are. This is a combined effort.

Stay informed and share
In the midst of hearsay and water rants, it is important to stay informed about the drought. There are plenty of resources to help you make changes to adapt to a hotter and drier Bay Area. For example, The Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA), East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), and the Department of Water Resources (DWR) offer a variety of information about the drought and water conservation. For regular drought updates and analyses, visit the Pacific Institute’s .

Bay Area residents have a variety of opportunities to reduce their water use during this drought.  We do not have to forgo comfort for water efficiency. Instead, we can change our view on the value of water in our lives and deliberately change the way we use water. These last few years – this one in particular –  have been a wake-up call for Californians. We are ready to adapt.


Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. For guidelines, see:

For more information on posting to Community Voices, see The word on Oakland Local’s Community Voices posts.

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