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California’s Water Budget

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In response to California’s recent severe drought, in 2018 two legislative bills were signed into law as part of the California Water Code. Senate Bill (SB) 606 and Assembly Bill (AB) 1668 were enacted in tandem, with each one dependent on the passage of the other.

The two bills together recognize the importance of water to the residents of California, make arrangements for the adoption of long-term standards for efficient water use, authorize the development of performance measures for commercial, industrial, institutional (CII) and large landscape water users, and establish a standard for indoor residential water use.

The existing standard for indoor residential water use is 55 gallons per day per person. On January 1, 2025, the standard decreases to 52.5 gallons per capita per day. Then, on January 1, 2030, the standard drops to 50 gallons per person per day

So, how much is 50 gallons per day? I did a quick calculation based on my last water bill. From April 10 to June 9 (60 days) my water usage was 692 cubic feet (water is often measured in cubic feet rather than gallons.) I multiplied 692 cubic feet by 7.48 (the number of gallons in each cubic foot) to arrive at 5176 gallons total. Dividing that by the 60 days in the billing period, I arrived at 86 gallons per day, both inside and outside the house. At first, I felt justified because – if Californians use half their residential water outdoors –I’m clearly within the 50 gallon per day indoor limit already. However, upon closer examination, May was an uncharacteristically cool and wet month when I did little outside watering. I clearly have some work to do to reach my conservation per capita usage by 2030.

What can we do to maximize our water use efficiency? According to the EPA, toilets are “by far the main source of water use in the home, accounting for nearly 30 percent of an average home’s indoor water consumption. Older, inefficient toilets that use as much as 6 gallons per flush also happen to be a major source of wasted water in many homes.”

WaterSense ® labeled toilets, using 1.28 gallons per flush or less, exceed the current federal standard of 1.6 gallons per flush. If your home was built before 1992, you may be eligible for a cash rebate when you replace your old toilet with a water-efficient model. Contact your water utility determine if they offer a rebate program.

WaterSense-labeled products range from showerheads, toilets and bathroom faucets to commercial spray heads and toilets, institutional flushing urinals and irrigation controllers and spray sprinkler bodies. The next time you’re doing any planning or remodeling that affects water consumption, look for the WaterSense label.

And, those doom-and-gloom social media posts about being fined for taking a shower and doing a load of laundry on the same day…not true! Water supply agencies will be setting new water budgets, it’s true. However, it’s only after repeated and intentional disregard for their water budgets that agencies may be fined for not meeting their budget targets in drought situations. Remember, it’s the average per capita water use across a district that counts.


Rebecca Miller-Cripps is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.

UCCE Master Gardeners of Tuolumne and Calaveras Counties can answer home gardening questions. Call 209-533-5912 or go to: http://ucanr.edu/survey/survey.cfm?surveynumber=7269 to fill out our easy-to-use problem questionnaire. Check out our website at: http://cecentralsierra.ucanr.edu/Master_Gardeners/ You can also find us on Facebook.

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