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Conserving Water, Drop by Drop and Dollar by Dollar

Conserving water has long been a goal of California policymakers, especially those who represent communities like the Crescenta Valley, that live under a constant threat from wildfires. With the state in the midst of a disastrous drought, conserving precious water resources has never been more important.  For the first time in history, water exports to Central Valley farms and Southern California homes have fallen to zero. Crops are dying, cities are running out of drinking water, streams are running dry and, for residents of dry and mountainous terrain like the foothills communities, the risk of an uncontrollable wildfire has never been higher.

Despite the drought, many homeowners also want cheaper water bills.  If provided the infrastructure, they’d gladly use clean recycled water to wash cars and irrigate lawns if it saved them money. Many cities have vast reservoirs of recycled water. If offered a market, they’d gladly allow the water to be used for more than just landscaping medians. In drought-scorched California, finding a sensible marriage of these interests, and using our limited-water resources efficiently, is essential.

The technology exists to save or recycle millions of gallons of water, but the infrastructure of our homes and businesses needs to be updated. Recycled water is cleaner than most of the water in our natural aquifers. It’s wasteful and inefficient to dump this water into the ocean when we could use it for productive purposes. That’s why I’ve introduced two key pieces of legislation that address our historic water-crisis. I’m happy to report that the governor signed these bills into law last month.

AB 2282 requires the state to adopt building standards for recycled water in newly constructed commercial and residential buildings, increasing water-use efficiency and bringing California’s infrastructure into the future. It is expected that upgrading infrastructure to increase water-use efficiency and provide new sources of recycled water will reduce water bills for many. And AB 2282 specifically protects homeowners and small businesses by requiring state agencies to consider the cost of various recycled-water infrastructure and determine which methods will provide the greatest cost savings for consumers.

While AB 2282 will ensure that new buildings are equipped with water-saving technologies, additional legislation action is needed to help families, businesses and local governments who are concerned about water conservation to equip their homes with this technology in an affordable and efficient manner.

That’s why I introduced AB 2636, which establishes CalConserve, a revolving-loan program to finance water-efficiency projects for homeowners and small businesses, and help cities and counties reach their water-reduction goals. Homeowners and small businesses can then repay the loan to the CalConserve program using the money they save on their water bill. It’s a win-win because as Californians upgrade and install the infrastructure to water lawns and wash cars with recycled water, they could save water and money without asking taxpayers to spend a single dime.

AB 2282 and AB 2636 are a continuation of my legislative efforts to address important water-policy issues. In 2011, the legislature passed AB 849, my bill to foster the use of gray water technology, and in 2012, the legislature passed my AB 2230, requiring all new carwashes to use 60% recycled water by 2014.

Instead of giving away limited state resources in grants to pay for retrofits, we can help people pay the upfront costs and let them pay us back slowly from their water-bill savings. With smart policies, modern technology, and a bit of patience, California can conserve its precious water resources for many generations to come.

Mike Gatto is the chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the California State Assembly and joint author of the 2014 Water Bond. He represents Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Franklin Hills, Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz, and Silver Lake.  Follow him on Twitter @MikeGatto or visit

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