Promote Urban Water Efficiency

Less than 1 percent of the earth’s water is available for use in homes, farm fields, and businesses. Climate change is expected to shrink freshwater supplies further, bringing water shortages to one-third of all counties in the Lower 48 states. Yet billions of gallons of water are wasted each day across the United States due to leaky pipes, inefficient fixtures, and thirsty landscaping. Smart, cost-effective solutions can reduce this waste and ensure that people have plentiful water supplies for generations to come.

NRDC works to encourage the efficient use of water in cities across the States. Our research confirms that reducing water demand can help make cities more resilient to future droughts, save energy, and leave more water in rivers and estuaries for fish, wildlife, and recreation. Many communities are already showing what can be done. Families save about $170 and 11,000 gallons of water a year by making a few simple changes such as installing efficient toilets and faucets in the bathroom. And the city of Los Angeles uses the same amount of water it did in the 1970s—even after adding more than one million new residents—thanks to comprehensive efficiency measures.

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Even more savings are possible. Compared with the water-consumption levels of the past decade, water use in new homes can be cut by one-third to one-half using technologies and practices that are available today. NRDC advocates for these kinds of efficiency measures. Our experts work at the state level to strengthen water-saving standards for showerheads, toilets, and other fixtures. We partner with the leading code-writing organizations—the International Code Council and the National Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials—to inject water efficiency into the model building codes that cities and states adopt. We helped design a 2015 code, for instance, that requires new buildings to insulate the pipes that distribute hot water, delivering hot water faster and reducing the time a shower must run until it’s warm. And when federal agencies propose new regulations for water use in clothes washers, dishwashers, and other appliances, our experts submit comments, speak at public meetings, and offer analysis that supports the strongest standards possible.

To accelerate the switch to water-efficient appliances, NRDC calls on utilities to offer incentives. Clothes washers alone account for about 20 percent of indoor household water use. New efficient washers can slash that in half—and they cut energy use as well. Many electric utilities offer incentives for people to buy energy-efficient products, and NRDC urges water utilities to do the same for appliances that save water.

Utilities have crucial responsibilities for maintaining our infrastructure as well. Billions of gallons of drinking water are lost each day due to leakage from utility pipes before the water ever gets to customers. NRDC supports new methods for finding, reporting, and reducing such leaks and losses, as well as the state policies that bring transparency and accountability to this essential public service.