Water Planning and Conservation Needs

Testimony before the California Assembly Select Committee on Growth and Infrastructure

October 19, 2005

Testimony of
Heather S. Cooley
Research Associate at the Pacific Institute for Studies
in Development, Environment, and Security

Water Planning and Conservation Needs

Honorable Representatives, distinguished guests: Thank you for inviting me to testify today. My testimony addresses the topic of water planning and conservation to meet the needs of growth and development. In the time available, I will provide a summary overview. I have submitted more detailed comments for your review.


Water is vital to our economy, our environment, and our daily lives. As California’s population and economy grow, there is mounting concern about our ability to meet future water demand. The traditional approach to meeting this demand has been to develop new infrastructure. While this approach has brought tremendous benefits to this state, there are serious inadequacies that a broader approach may help resolve. Improved water-use efficiency and conservation – by which I mean doing the things we want to do, with less water – are the cheapest, easiest, and least destructive ways to meet California’s current and future water supply needs. And the potential for reducing the waste of water remains very large.

Traditional Water Planning Assumptions are Incorrect

Traditional water planning is based on two premises. First, that population, the economy, and water use are inextricably linked such that water use will increase as the economy and population grow. And second, that in order to meet the needs of a growing population, we must build more infrastructure to take water from rivers, lakes, and aquifers.

These assumptions are false. Figure 1 on page 6 shows California’s gross state product, population, and water use between 1975 and 2001. Total water use in California was less in 2001 than it was in 1980, yet population increased by 50% and gross state product doubled. This suggests that we can and in fact we have broken the link between water use, population, and economic growth. This has been achieved in part by improvements in conservation and efficiency, as well as the changing nature of our economy. […]

Download the full testimony here