California Water Plan: A Step in the Right Direction, but Too Tentative

For Immediate Release: Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Institute Hails Openness, Climate Change Acknowledgement; Laments Lack of True Efficiency

Contact: Ian Hart, media(at) or 510-251-1600

With today’s release of the California Water Plan Update 2005, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) took a tentative step forward, according to the Pacific Institute of Oakland. Unfortunately, while the state’s principal tool for water planning has become more sophisticated in its inclusion of future water-use scenarios, its most efficient scenario greatly underestimates the potential for cost-effective reductions in California’s water use. Using the same model as DWR, the Institute found that Californians can actually cut water use by 20 percent in the next 25 years while satisfying a growing population, maintaining a healthy agricultural sector, and supporting a vibrant economy.

“Update 2005 is a dramatic improvement over previous Water Plans, particularly in acknowledging the risks climate change poses to California’s water resources. Unfortunately, the update fails to pay sufficient attention to potential efficiency improvements – particularly in the agriculture sector – despite evidence showing that conservation is cheaper than developing new water sources,” said Dr. Peter H. Gleick, President of the Pacific Institute. “California’s cities have made good progress in reducing water waste, and more can be done. But it is also time for the agricultural sector to step up and do its share.”

Update 2005 projects substantial increases in urban water use over time; past projections, however, have far exceeded the use that actually materialized. Overestimating future water demand drives California water planners to seek out expensive and environmentally destructive new sources of water. In his recent “Build It” State of the State address, Governor Schwarzenegger called for the construction of two new reservoirs. At a time when the state’s existing water systems are at risk, as evidenced by recent levee failures and the ongoing ecological collapse of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the state cannot afford to pursue unnecessary and costly new infrastructure.

“While we applaud the openness of DWR’s process, waiting another five to ten years to implement more aggressive conservation policies will make the water waste problem more expensive and complicated,” said Heather Cooley, co-author of the Pacific Institute high-efficiency scenario report. The Institute’s analysis produced several recommendations for new state and local policies to reduce water waste, all of which can be accomplished with existing technology:

  • Set new water-efficiency standards for residential and commercial appliances, including toilets, washing machines, dishwashers, showers, and faucets.
  • Require water-efficient appliances to be “retrofit on resale” for existing homes.
  • Demonstrate water-efficient housing designs before new developments are approved.
  • Ensure that urban and agricultural water rates reflect the true cost of service.
  • Revise and expand best management practices for urban and agricultural water agencies and make them mandatory and enforceable.
  • Expand development and deployment of efficient irrigation technologies and water-efficient crops.

For more information, download
California Water 2030: An Efficient Future

See also: California Water Plan Update 2005

The Pacific Institute is dedicated to protecting the natural world, encouraging sustainable development, and improving global security. Founded in 1987 and based in downtown Oakland, the Institute provides independent research and policy analysis on issues at the intersection of development, environment, and security.