Lack of water efficiency funding undercuts fight against drought

Now that the current drought is already having an effect more than 90 million people in the US and where water scarcity is likely to get worse due to population growth and climate change, there is an urgent need to invest in water efficiency. This threat extends far beyond the dry west. Thirty-three states have been hit by droughts since 2000, including in the Great Plains, Midwest, Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. And scientists warn that most of the land is on track to experience water shortages if we don’t manage water better.

Water efficiency not only provides access to clean, affordable water in a changing climate, it is also a cost-effective way to manage the root cause of climate change. That’s because water-saving strategies reduce the amount of energy used to heat, pump, and treat water, which in turn reduces heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions.

Using less water also helps to protect our rivers, bays and aquifers and saves the consumer money. Water-saving sanitary products can save an average family hundreds of dollars every year. This is especially important now that COVID-19 is leaving millions of Americans behind not capable of to pay water bills.

Like energy efficiency, water efficiency supports many of the important goals discussed by Congress and the Biden government – climate resilience, sustainability, public health, equity and affordability. Unlike energy efficiency, federal funding for water efficiency – such as discounts for buying water-efficient plumbing / irrigation and installing leak detectors – is a drop in the bucket.

A analysis by our nonprofit, the Alliance for Water Efficiency, found that federal spending on energy efficiency and renewable energy since 2000 has been about 80 times higher than spending on water efficiency and water reuse. This discrepancy is surprising given that water efficiency not only protects water resources and saves money, it is also a cost-effective way to conserve energy. For instance, an analysis by UC Davis found that water conservation in 2015-2016 was a more cost-effective way to reduce energy consumption in California than traditional energy efficiency programs.

The U.S. government has made significant investments to address the country’s energy crisis, while the water crisis avert tab is on local water agencies struggling with cash at the best of times, not to mention the pandemic making customers unable to pay their bills. According to the federal government, the federal government pays less than 5 percent of the costs for drinking water and wastewater National Association of Clean Water Agencies, relying on loans to local communities instead.

The climate is changing, drought is getting worse and the water supply is increasingly at risk. Water efficiency and conservation are the most direct, cost-effective and environmentally friendly ways to meet these challenges. It’s time for Congress to take the water crisis seriously and make significant investments to help communities cope.

Ron Burke is the President and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE), a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the efficient and sustainable use of water in the United States and Canada. Mary Ann Dickinson is the founding president and CEO of AWE.

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