How Most Western Cities Decreased Water Usage While Growing In Population

Regulation and incentivization helped cities in the Western United States keep water usage and population growth on opposite trend lines.

1 minute read

November 2, 2020, 10:00 AM PST

By Lee Flannery @leecflannery


potable water fire hydrant

daveynin / Flickr

Despite increasing populations, numerous western U.S. cities have reduced water use in the past 20 years, according to a new study. Melissa Sevigny interviewed the study's lead author Brian Richter to learn more about "how simple water conservation measures could be a cost-effective way to combat shortages in the Colorado River Basin."

Richter explains that of the 20 western cities, two-thirds saw water usage drop. "What we found across the board in the western Cities that we surveyed—we looked at 20 different cities—we found their average rate of growth from 2000 to 2015 was about 21 percent, yet their average rate of reduction in their water use was 19 percent," describes Richter in the interview. 

Financial disincentives for landscaping irrigation has contributed significantly to the decline in water use, according to the article. "The other big part of the story was indoors, on toilets," says Richter. Richter points to the Federal Energy Policy Act of 1992, which reduced water use by mandating that new toilets sold in the United States would be highly energy efficient. "Overnight, the new toilets being sold were using half of the water that they did previously," Richter notes. 

According to Richter, the precedent that has been set for water conservation so far still leaves a lot of room for improvement.

Thursday, October 22, 2020 in KNAU NPR

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