New Standards Put California on Track to Save Over 100 Billion Gallons of Water Annually

The California Energy Commission (CEC) just adopted the most advanced water efficiency standards in the nation for new urinals, bathroom and kitchen faucets, and toilets sold and installed in the state's homes and businesses. The savings from this unprecedented, emergency action taken in the midst of a historic drought will be massive -- and grow to more than 100 billion gallons of water per year once the currently installed products are eventually replaced. This adds up to three times the amount of water used annually by the entire city of San Francisco.

In addition to saving water, the standards announced yesterday will save an impressive amount of energy by cutting hot water waste from the faucet and also reducing the amount of electricity required to pump and treat water. Benefits include:

  • Electricity savings of 2,100 gigawatt-hours, which is greater than the amount used annually by all of the residents in Sacramento, our state capital!
  • Natural gas savings of 278 million therms per year of natural gas, enough to heat more than a million California homes for a year
  • Future utility bill savings for California businesses and consumers of $1.25 billion per year

While much more needs to be done for California to effectively address its water needs, this is a great step forward as these standards are desperately needed given the state's extended drought. The standards go into effect on January 1, 2016.

Is this a big deal? The standards will cut by roughly 25 percent the amount of water needed to run our kitchen and bathroom faucets, and flush our urinals and toilets. Believe it or not, there are more than 45 million faucets, 30 million toilets, and 1 million urinals just in California. And nearly all of these use precious drinking water. Once we eventually replace the current devices with those that meet the standard, the savings really add up.

Where will the savings come from? Let's start with the toilet in everyone's home. Per the California standards, new toilets will use 1.28 gallons per flush, instead of 1.6 which many of the currently installed toilets use. This one change will save each family of four around 2,500 gallons per year. That translates to more than 6 gallons -- or more than 100 cups of clean drinking water -- that will now be available per home each day. Also, well-designed new toilets work just as well as the old ones. If you still have one of those bright green deco toilets with a big tank on the back, you'll probably save twice as much, and those old models make a great candidate for early replacement. Meanwhile the urinals that are located in men's rooms in office buildings, airports, and restaurants across the state will no longer use 0.5 to 1.0 gallon of water per flush. New ones will only use just one pint (16 ounces). which is plenty to do the job. It's hard to believe so much clean drinking water has been going down the drain with each flush.

The biggest savings of all will be coming from kitchen and bathroom faucets. Bathroom faucets will now only use 1.2 gallons per minute instead of the 2.2 allowed by the current standard. That's almost a 50 percent improvement.

The bigger picture? While we are in the midst of an epic drought, well-thought-out policies like these will help make our water go a lot further. California will have enough water to meet the needs of a growing population and economy, and to sustain healthy rivers and streams, as shown in this study by NRDC and the Pacific Institute, but ONLY if we make better use of each precious drop. With yesterday's action, the CEC has taken a big step down the path of sustainability.

For tips on what you can do help save water, see NRDC's Nine Ways to Save Water.